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Politics

Suu Kyi poised to run second campaign amid rise of splinter parties

Myanmar's leader calls for 'loyalty' to ruling NLD in run-up to November elections

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at the electoral commission to formalize her re-election bid as a parliament member in Yangon, Myanmar, Aug. 4.   © Reuters

YANGON -- Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday filed her candidacy papers to run in the general election in November, demonstrating her determination to continue the country's democratically elected administration for the next five years.

Suu Kyi, who now holds the position of State Counsellor, filed her candidacy at the district election commission office in Thanlyin township on the outskirts of Yangon. Wearing a protective face mask and gloves, she was welcomed by her supporters and party members as she arrived at the commission office. Her supporters wore masks printed with Suu Kyi's portrait and held banners saying 'Long Live Amay (Mother) Suu'.

"We are extremely happy to be here to welcome our leader, who has been with us since 1988 through all the struggles to fight against the [military] dictatorship. She's now serving the country and we are supporting her," U Han Nyunt, one of her supporters, told the Nikkei Asian Review.

According to Myanmar's Union Election Commission, 37 million people are eligible to vote and 97 parties are eligible to field candidates for the polls. A total of 1,171 seats at national, state and regional levels will be contested.

Unlike in previous elections, Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy party will find itself running an election campaign against a rising tide of criticism against her. Some of the critics were her former allies along her democratic journey but their paths have diverged for a number of reasons.

Newly established political parties like the People's Pioneer Party (PPP) and Union Betterment Party (UBP) plan to contest major seats in the election.

Thet Thet Khine, a lawmaker and founder of the PPP, left the NLD in October last year to form the new party. She said her party would field candidates in almost 100 constituencies.

"We are now expecting to contest seats in almost 100 townships in the country," she told the Nikkei Asian Review. The PPP would mainly contest in the regions that are not ethnic minority states, she added.

Suu Kyi has come under international criticism over several issues, the main one being her support for the military in the Rohingya crisis, which has seen large numbers of the Muslim ethnic group forced to flee violence.

Amid civil war in several parts of the country, Rakhine State is one area where the country's military faces an ongoing fight with armed ethnic groups. Suu Kyi is still struggling to work on the peace process, which was one of the campaign messages from the previous general election in 2015.

Another issue on which her government faces international pressure is for having shut down internet access in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States for more than a year.

According to a military spokesman, this was done "in order to prevent leaks of military secrets and to stop the spread of racial hatred on social media." Although the government has now lifted the internet ban, people still cannot easily access the internet and connectivity is very slow, according to residents in Rakhine State. This all comes against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and a heightened need for access to information.

Looking ahead to November, Suu Kyi's party is aiming for 20% of its candidates to be women, up from about 13% in 2015.

Suu Kyi delivered a video message to candidates in late July, saying that the party had chosen the candidates due to their loyalty to the party's policies.

"We look at the applicants' loyalty to the party's policies," she said. "We are paying special attention to those who will faithfully support the aspiration of democratic federalism and who will walk along with us."

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