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Suu Kyi to Stand in Myanmar Vote for First Time Amid Reforms

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National League for Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy. Photographer: Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)

Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will stand in an election for the first time after her party voted to rejoin politics as the former military dictatorship undertakes democratic reforms.

Suu Kyi will lead a slate of candidates in upcoming by-elections after her National League for Democracy said on Nov. 18 it would formally re-register as a political party, spokesman Nyan Win said by phone today. The party boycotted an election last year won by allies of the former ruling junta.

“We’ll try our best,” Nyan Win said, adding that the Election Commission hasn’t set a date for the by-election. The party’s candidates will be mostly youth and ethnic minorities, he said.

President Thein Sein has moved to end Myanmar’s political isolation since taking power nine months ago, releasing political prisoners, legalizing unions and lifting censorship of media outlets like the BBC. President Barack Obama last week said he’d dispatch Hillary Clinton to Myanmar after seeing “flickers of progress,” the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in more than five decades.

Representatives from the U.S. and Europe have been traveling to the country formerly known as Burma in recent months as they review financial and economic sanctions. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed Nov. 17 that Myanmar will chair the group in 2014, a move they say will provide further momentum for changes.

Law Changes

Earlier this month, Thein Sein updated the law to pave the way for Suu Kyi’s party to re-enter the political process and contest 48 seats in by-elections, opposition news outlet Mizzima reported. Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, has called on Thein Sein to free more than 500 political prisoners still behind bars.

Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party, backed by the former ruling junta, won about 80 percent of 664 seats in the election. The military retains a quarter of seats in the two houses of parliament, according to the constitution.

Suu Kyi was banned from standing in a 1990 election in which the NLD won 80 percent of seats because the ruling junta designated her a foreigner because of her marriage to British scholar Michael Aris, who died in 1999. The generals later voided the results.

U.S. sanctions ban new investment, imports from Myanmar and transfer of funds into the country. Europe’s restrictive measures are less severe, including bans on weapons sales and mining investments.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

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