Suu Kyi eyes poll majority, but fears for wider democratic gains

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday she was confident her opposition party would win Myanmar's landmark elections if they are free and fair, but raised concern at the country's overall progress towards democracy.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner told AFP in an interview she expects her National League for Democracy will secure a majority in November.

It will be the first nationwide poll the NLD has contested for 25 years in a country strait-jacketed for almost half a century under army rule. The party won by a landslide in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power.

Asked if she was confident of winning a dominant share of seats Suu Kyi replied: "If the elections are free and fair, of course."

"I think looking at the governments which have gone before us, we should be in a position to form a better government," she told AFP, in some of her most confident comments yet as Myanmar fast approaches an election that many hope will be the freest in its modern history.

But the veteran campaigner, who was held for years under house arrest by the former junta, said she was also "very concerned" about irregularities in the run-up to the polls, stressing that the long-cloistered country still has a long way to go before it can be called democratic.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, is widely revered for her long campaign for democracy. She led her opposition party into parliament after the current quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011.

But Myanmar's junta-era constitution blocks her pathway to the presidency, and a recent attempt to change it was quashed by the still-powerful military and its allies.

Fraud fears

Suu Kyi also raised concerns over election fraud, with particular fears about "using religion for political purposes" as the Buddhist-majority nation grapples with the increasing influence of radical nationalist monks.

Scant progress had been made, she said, in two complaints filed with election authorities over cases in which political rivals started "attacking" the NLD during religious ceremonies.

"Nobody has been punished... what you are asking, are we concerned about irregularities about fraud and so on and of course we are very concerned," she said.

But she was clear the party, which is fielding over a thousand candidates across the country, would not "step back" from the elections.

The constitution excludes those with foreign spouses and children from top political office - Suu Kyi's two sons are British - as well as enshrining the military's continued political clout by reserving a quarter of parliamentary seats for them.

Earlier this month President Thein Sein, a former general, launched a dramatic internal putsch of the ruling party using security forces, ousting rival Shwe Mann from the party leadership.

That came as a blow to the opposition leader, who has fostered a close working relationship with Shwe Mann.

The former general, who remains parliament speaker, had been seen by some as a possible compromise presidential candidate for the NLD.

"We are supposed to be going along the path of democratisation but events over the last couple of weeks show that we are not very far along that path yet," said Suu Kyi of the incident, citing the use of security forces - a throwback to junta days.

Observers fear that the NLD's lack of an obvious heir to Suu Kyi will stoke political uncertainty, particularly in the months after the November 8 legislative elections when parliament will select a president.

Suu Kyi, who turned 70 this year, confirmed to AFP that the NLD would reveal its presidential candidate only after the polls.

But she said the nominee would come from within the party ranks.