YANGON • Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi launched her campaign yesterday for the country's first free general election since the end of military rule, saying it was a crucial turning point and calling on the global community to monitor the outcome.
In a video message on her National League for Democracy's (NLD) Facebook page, the Nobel Peace laureate said the Nov 8 election should be free and fair, but "almost more important" will be the transition period that follows.
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 NLD's landslide victory in the 1990 election was not recognised by the ruling junta.
"For the first time in decades, our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change. This is a chance that we cannot afford to let slip," said Ms Suu Kyi. "A smooth and tranquil transition is almost more important than a free and fair election."
Red tape and confusion have prevented all but about 19,000 of more than two million Myanmar citizens working overseas from signing up to vote. Given that most of those overseas had fled military rule, they would be unlikely supporters of the ruling, army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The election campaign begins less then a month after a major presidential contender and opponent of President Thein Sein, the powerful parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann, was removed as ruling party leader in a dramatic shake-up of the political establishment.
Mr Shwe Mann's close relationship with Ms Suu Kyi was regarded with suspicion by the military. His ouster has stoked fears that Mr Thein Sein's government and its allies will resist any bid to push them from power, even if the opposition wins big.
"Please help us by observing what happens before the elections, during the elections, and, crucially, after the elections," Ms Suu Kyi said, in an appeal to the outside world.
The Constitution effectively bars Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president, even if the NLD wins a majority, and it also gives the army a veto over constitutional change.
The USDP won the last general election which was held under military rule in 2010 and widely condemned as rigged in favour of the party, which includes remnants of the old regime and its business allies. This time, it is expected to lose a significant number of seats.
Yesterday's official opening of the campaign was subdued. Senior NLD members gathered at Ms Suu Kyi's home in Yangon to discuss their manifesto and campaign while about 30 activists with flags and banners marched out of the party's headquarters to the tune of pro-democracy songs.
They handed out fliers and put up stickers with the message: "It's time for change."
"I will vote for the NLD because I want to see the changes from the top to the lowest level in our country," said passer-by San Myin, 56.
Ms Suu Kyi will meet her supporters tomorrow in Kayah state in the east, where powerful Minister of the President's Office Soe Thein, the architect of Mr Thein Sein's economic reforms, is running for a seat in the election.
The ballot will determine representatives of the bicameral Parliament and regional chambers for five-year terms.
"It's really the president and the president's administration, rather than the biggest party in Parliament, that determine what happens next in the reform process," said Mr Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst and a former UN official in Myanmar. "That's the real question."