YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Just five years ago, when Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, she commented that one day she hoped to get a Twitter account and chat with the outside world.
On Tuesday, the opposition leader kicked off campaigning for Myanmar’s historic Nov. 8 general election with a Facebook post — one of many signs of how far the country and its most recognizable politician have come in a few years.
In a video message, Suu Kyi called the upcoming election “a crucial turning point for our country.”
Suu Kyi, who enjoys huge public support, is barred from running for president because of a clause in the constitution that excludes people with foreign spouses or foreign children from the presidency. The clause is widely seen as custom-made for Suu Kyi, who is the widow of a British academic and has two sons with British nationality. But she is seeking re-election to parliament.
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“For the first time in decades, our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change,” Suu Kyi said in the message posted on her party’s Facebook page in Burmese and English. “We hope that the whole world understands how important it is for us to have free and fair elections.”
More than 90 political parties will take part in the parliamentary elections, which are being closely watched as the next step toward democracy in a country that was run by a repressive military junta for nearly half a century.
The polls will be the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation over whether the election will be free and fair.
The polls will also be the first time Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party has contested a general election in 25 years.
The NLD is expected to make large gains at the expense of the military-backed ruling party, and might even win a majority.
The last time the NLD took part in a national election was in 1990, when it won by a landslide. But the result was ignored by the military, which kept Suu Kyi locked away under house arrest for 15 years without phone lines or Internet and blocked virtually all contact with the outside world.
The party boycotted the next nationwide election in 2010 because Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was still under house arrest and barred from taking part. The 2010 polls were condemned by international observers for widespread irregularities. It was in 2010 that Suu Kyi commented through her lawyer that she wished to “sign up on Twitter” once she was released to “get in touch with the younger generation inside and outside the country.”
A week after the 2010 election, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. Her party took part in 2012 by-elections, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested — including Suu Kyi’s first elected post as a member of parliament.
“We hope to take our country to that point where there can be no return from genuine development in the democratic direction,” Suu Kyi said in the video message Tuesday. “Please help us by observing what happens before the elections, during the elections, and, crucially after the elections.”
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.