Suu Kyi's election run test of Burma's democracy

(CBS News) - As they have for 2,000 years, faithful monks practiced ancient rituals at Burma's holiest Buddhist temple, Shwedagon Pagoda Friday. The scene looked like it was locked in time, much like Burma, also known as Myanmar, itself.

But, millions of people here have new hope because of a 66-year-old wisp of a woman named Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace prize winner is running for a lower house seat in the Kawhmu Township constituency in this Sunday's by-election. It is being seen by many as a crucial test of the country's democratic reforms.

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Suu Kyi said she figured on a scale of one to 10, her country still has a long way to go.

"We're trying to get to one," she said chuckling.

On Friday morning, Suu Kyi faced the world's media in a green tent in the garden of her home. She spent 15 years there under house-arrest as a prisoner of the military government she opposed.

"It is the rising political awareness of our people that we regard as our greatest triumph," she said at an earlier event.

If she wins on Sunday, it will give her a voice in the government for the first time. Even though her party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in 1990, they were never allowed to take power.

These days, the National League for Democracy's headquarters are bustling. For 30-year-old campaign worker Ayea Ayea Nyein, this will be the first election she has been involved in.

"I feel happy, and I feel proud for that... because we are fighting for our rights, we are fighting for democracy," Ayea Nyein told CBS News.

Suu Kyi is an icon worldwide and almost an industry in Burma. Her party's paraphernalia are among the hottest souvenirs. It's quite a change from CBS News correspondent Seth Doane's first trip to Burma two years ago when any talk of Suu Kyi or her party was only in whispers.

Doane asked Suu Kyi at the press conference if she was worried that the party and the movement couldn't survive without her, especially considering her illness earlier this week.

"The surge of public support has gone up since I was taken ill so I think that this country can very well survive without me," she said. "I've found that the people have the right spirit to survive. They have the guts and they have the commitment."

  • Seth Doane

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