National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi checks a voters list on July 4 in Wartheinkha. Myanmar on July 8 announced Nov. 8 as the date for a general election, the first contested by Suu Kyi's opposition in a quarter of a century. (Photo:AFP/ Ye Aung THU)
Myanmar's president Thursday reaffirmed his vow to hold a "free and fair" election after the country set the date for what many hope will be the most democratic vote in a generation for the former junta-run nation. Millions will cast their votes in historic general elections on Nov. 8 that are likely to be the first time in 25 years that Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party have taken part in a nationwide poll. "As the first civilian government in many years, we have a responsibility and we promise to try our best to ensure that the upcoming general election is clean, free and fair," said President Thein Sein, in a national radio address a day after the poll date was confirmed. The Myanmar leader, a former general, has been cheered by the international community for unleashing political and economic reforms that have cracked open the country's isolation, sparking the end of most Western sanctions. But as elections loom, fears have grown that the nation, which was ruled by the military for nearly half a century, might be back-pedaling on its democratic transition.
Suu Kyi, who is barred from becoming president by the junta-drafted constitution, has failed in her efforts to change the charter, locking horns with the military's formidable 25 percent parliamentary voting bloc and effective amendment veto. The 70-year-old Nobel laureate has yet to formally announce participation in the polls, although her National League for Democracy (NLD) party says it has already prepared a long-awaited policy platform. Myanmar's main opposition is expected to make sweeping gains at the elections. It won 1990 polls by a landslide but was not allowed to take power by military rulers who kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years. She remained locked up during the country's last general elections in 2010, which were won by Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development Party — manufactured by the former junta and dominated by retired generals — amid a league boycott and widespread accusations of cheating. Observers now hope the November elections will be the freest in Myanmar's recent history, with its Union Election Commission (UEC) welcoming a slew of foreign observers. The United States is among several countries providing support for the polls. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said "a credible parliamentary election is an important step" in response to the election date announcement on July 8. But the NLD has warned that voter lists are riddled with errors and has launched house-to-house campaigns to encourage people to check their details. The UEC has admitted problems computerizing some 30 million names on electoral lists for the first time, but it says voters can still make corrections. AFP
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