Myanmar activist's party to enter new elections

Myanmar's main opposition party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, waves to supporters as she leaves the National League for Democracy party headquarters after a meeting in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 18, 2011. AP Photo

Updated at 3:53 p.m. ET

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's main opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi decided Friday to rejoin politics and register for future elections, signaling its confidence in recent reforms by the military-aligned government.

The National League for Democracy party "has unanimously decided to reregister as a political party ... and will run in the elections," it said in a statement issued at the end of a meeting of senior members from across the country.

Some joyous members broke into a dance as the announcement was made.

"What we are doing now involves a lot of risk but it is time to take the risk because in politics there is no 100 percent assurance of success," Suu Kyi told them.

The NLD had refused to register for elections last year — the first since 1990 — because of a restriction that would have prevented Suu Kyi from running. That restriction was lifted this year by a new nominally civilian government that took office from a long-ruling military junta after the November 2010 polls.

At the NLD meeting, member after member, including Suu Kyi, spoke out in favor of joining the political arena because of reforms initiated by the new government, which have drawn cautious approval from even its most bitter critic, the United States.

President Obama announced Friday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would visit early next month — the first such trip in more than a half-century — after what he said were "flickers of progress" in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

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"Personally I am for reregistration," Suu Kyi said in her speech to the delegates at the party headquarters in Yangon.

Any party that registers itself is required to run for at least three seats in the still-unscheduled by-elections for 48 vacant seats in Parliament. The legislature comprises 224 members in the upper house and 440 members in the lower house.

"Instead of participating in three seats in the by-elections, I would prefer to take part in all seats," Suu Kyi said.

It is likely that Suu Kyi would run for office, said NLD spokesman Nyan Win. He said the party will file registration papers with the Election Commission in the capital, Naypyitaw, "as soon as possible."

"Some party members are concerned that my dignity will be affected if I run for the election," Suu Kyi told her colleagues. "If one is engaged in politics, one has to do what is necessary. If I feel that I should take part in elections, I will participate."

She cautioned that "the road ahead is full of difficulties and the road to democracy is endless."

The NLD's refusal to register last year was mainly because of an election law that required political parties to expel members who have been incarcerated. The clause appeared to target Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest by the military regime. The NLD subsequently boycotted the elections.

However, Myanmar's new civilian government, headed by a former army officer who was prime minister in the junta, has shown a willingness to deal with Suu Kyi. It also has lifted some restrictions on the Internet, legalized unions and scrapped an unpopular dam project.

Bringing Suu Kyi's party back into the fold would give the government greater legitimacy at home and abroad.

"The NLD has to reregister if the party wants to join the political arena. The political climate has changed compared to 2010 and we have to make a practical decision," said Aung Myo, an NLD member from Sagaing region.

The NLD overwhelmingly won the 1990 general election, but the junta refused to honor the results. The military regime kept Suu Kyi under house arrest during different periods for a total of 15 years. She was released just after last year's elections and is now free to move about and meet people. The government also continues to hold hundreds of political prisoners although there are moves to free many of them.

The party's decision Friday to re-enter the election fray was met with qualified support from some exiled pro-democracy activists.

Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma, said it is more important that a dialogue between Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein continues.

He said such talks should seek substantive results, such as the release of all political prisoners and an end to army attacks in ethnic minority areas, where the government has long battled groups seeking greater autonomy.

He warned that Thein Sein may not have enough power to combat others in Myanmar's ruling circles who oppose reforms, and it was uncertain whether Suu Kyi's party can achieve change in Parliament, where the military and its allies hold a large majority.

Maung Zarni, a longtime exiled activist who is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, cautioned that the pro-military tilt in Parliament "doesn't give much room for political maneuverings."

Suu Kyi told her colleagues that the party will continue to work for the release of political prisoners, the end of ethnic strife and a strengthening of the rule of law.

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