Suu Kyi holds her first rally in ruling party's stronghold

Demoso citizens listening to a speech by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday.
Demoso citizens listening to a speech by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Opposition leader gets rapturous welcome near area eyed by President Thein Sein's ally

DEMOSO (Myanmar) • Thousands thronged to see Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's first rally yesterday as the Myanmar opposition leader launched her bid for the historic November elections by touring a remote eastern region seen as a stronghold of the ruling party.

She received a rapturous welcome in Demoso in the sparsely populated state of Kayah on the Thai border.

The small town is close to the constituency where powerful Minister of the President's Office, Mr Soe Thein, the architect of President Thein Sein's economic reforms, is running for a seat.

"We want to form the government for real change," said Ms Suu Kyi, as red-clad supporters cheered in front of a stage decked with the flags of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

"The coming election is our chance to change the system and go for democracy. People should not miss the chance," she added, declaring the NLD's ambition to win all contested seats.

The NLD is expected to win the election, which marks a major shift in Myanmar's political landscape, giving a platform to democratic activists shut out of public life during nearly half a century of strict military rule that ended in 2011.

The election is poised to be the country's freest and fairest since 1990, when the NLD won in a rout, only for the junta to not recognise the result. Campaigning officially started on Tuesday.

"I came back from the field early because I wanted to see her," said farmer Mu Hla, elbowing through the crowd towards the stage. "I love her and I want to vote for the NLD."

The election will determine representatives of the bicameral Parliament and regional chambers for five-year terms.

The Upper and Lower Houses will both nominate a presidential candidate, who must secure the support of a majority of members. The military will nominate a third.

The Parliament will then vote for one of the three candidates to become president and form the new government.

The Constitution bars Ms Suu Kyi from becoming the next president, regardless of the outcome, because she has British children. It also gives the army a veto over constitutional change.

"Ms Suu Kyi will now take her campaign to Bawlakhe - a town of several thousand and the constituency where Mr Soe Thein is running for a seat in the Upper House.

Targeting Bawlakhe reflects the NLD's strategy of aiming to unseat high-profile government officials.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Suu Kyi holds her first rally in ruling party's stronghold'. Print Edition | Subscribe