YANGON • A sparsely populated cluster of Indian Ocean islands has become the unlikely focus of allegations that Myanmar's government is spiking the chances of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party in next month's landmark general election.
Both the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Nobel peace laureate's National League for Democracy (NLD) have fielded candidates on the Coco Islands, an archipelago off Myanmar's west coast and the country's smallest parliamentary constituency.
But NLD parliamentary nominee Win Min has been prevented from going to the Coco Islands, where the main installation is a naval base, making it almost impossible for him to canvass for votes in the Nov 8 polls.
The allegations undermine the semi-civilian government's insistence that the elections will be Myanmar's first free and fair polls in 25 years, a milestone in its transition from military dictatorship to democracy that will be closely watched by the international community.
"I believe if they let me go there, I will win," said Mr Win Min during an interview in Yangon, where he has recently been racking up a large mobile phone bill making calls to voters on the islands about 300km away.
The Coco Islands are a restricted area and transport links are sparse. A military plane flies every two weeks from Yangon, while a navy ship and a state-owned boat also make occasional trips. The island's population is around 1,900, according to census data. Most are military families, civil servants and workers brought to the island to construct an airport.
Mr Win Min said that he made plans three times to visit the islands since the campaign started on Sept 8, once by boat and twice by plane.
His scheduled boat trip was abruptly cancelled while he was waiting to board. He was told there was no space on two subsequent flights to the island.
In contrast, Mr Win Min's USDP rival Thet Swe has been able to campaign freely on the island.
Western diplomats say the party has used a variety of tactics to trip up NLD candidates, but most overtly in seats where it wants to ensure a victory for its prominent leaders.