BAWLAKHE, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday urged voters to opt for “real change” in the first general election since the end of military rule.
Thousands of supporters gave Suu Kyi a rapturous welcome in towns in the sparsely populated state of Kayah on the Thai border.
Bawlakhe, where Suu Kyi made a speech and was staying the night, is where Soe Thein, the powerful minister of the president’s office and architect of President Thein Sein’s economic reforms, is running for a seat.
“We want to form the government for real change,” said Suu Kyi earlier in the day in the town of Demoso, as red-clad supporters cheered in front of a stage decked with the flags of her party, the National League for Democracy.
“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 be victorious in the Nov. 8 vote, 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 ruling junta to refuse to recognize 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 choose representatives in the bicameral parliament and regional chambers for five-year terms.
The upper and lower houses will each nominate a presidential candidate, who must secure the support of a majority of members. The military will nominate a third.
Parliament will then vote for one of the three candidates to become president and form the government.
The constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, regardless of the outcome, because she has British children. It also gives the army a veto over constitutional change.
In Bawlakhe, the Nobel laureate reiterated the NLD’s commitment to the peace process, speaking in a state dominated by the Karenni ethnic group, one of the several who have spent decades in armed conflict with the central government.
“It’s very important to chose a government which will be truly keen on the peace process. It is very important for ethnic people to be aware of this when you vote in the election,” said Suu Kyi.
Targeting Bawlakhe, where Soe Thein is running for a seat in the upper house, reflects the NLD’s strategy of aiming to unseat high-profile government officials.
The presidential ally, a veteran of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is running as an independent after a fallout over candidate lists with former party chairman Shwe Mann.
Soe Thein had wanted to run on the USDP slate but was blocked by Shwe Mann in July when candidate lists were prepared.
This contributed to the president’s move to sack Shwe Mann from the party leadership, in a dramatic shake-up of Myanmar’s political establishment in August.
Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Andrew Roche