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11:23am UK, Sunday April 01, 2012
Burma’s opposition party claims Aung San Suu Kyi has won a seat in parliament after voters took to the polls in the country’s by-elections.
The 66-year-old former political prisoner spent 15 years under house arrest as punishment for opposing the country’s military regime.
I voted for Aung San Suu Kyi because I trust her. I hope she can help fix problems like healthcare and education.
Saw Hein Min Zan, Wah Thin Kha resident
Her release in late 2010 saw thousands of people take to the streets in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and former capital, in a spontaneous celebration.
Today Ms Suu Kyi visited several polling stations in Kawhmu – the constituency in which she is running.
Dressed in red – the colour of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) – and wearing flowers in her hair, the Nobel peace prize winner chatted with voters.
Kawhmu is a poverty-stricken farming area just an hour outside Rangoon. Many local people live in flimsy bamboo huts and scrape a living growing rice and beans.
In the village of Wah Thin Kha voters began queuing shortly after dawn.
“I love her because she’s so brave,” said one voter, Aye Fu Hlaing
Another, Saw Hein Min Zan, said: “I voted for Aung San Suu Kyi because I trust her. I hope she can help fix problems like healthcare and education.”
The NLD has 44 candidates running in a total of 45 seats being contested.
Supporters chanted the name of Aung San Suu Kyi
Ms Suu Kyi has complained of “irregularities” during the campaign, including the intimidation of candidates, and says the polls will not be free or fair.
Nevertheless, many Western governments hope the by-elections will be an important step towards democracy in Burma, not least because greater reform would allow them to relax sanctions on the country.
Economic sanctions have trapped the Burmese in poverty and isolation. Ms Suu Kyi favoured them, however, as a way of pressuring the regime.
In 2010 Burma held general elections that were widely regarded as rigged. Critics say the military-backed government is simply the former junta changed into civilian dress.
But since then hundreds of political prisoners have been released, the country is enjoying greater freedom, and Aung San Suu Kyi – the regime’s former enemy – has been permitted to run for parliament.