Suu Kyi's party seeks boost from her release

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, appears likely to be freed on Nov. 13 in the wake of near universal condemnation of Nov. 7 Burmese elections, which were widely described as rigged to keep the junta in power and were said to be rife with vote fraud.

The Chiang Mai-based expatriate publication The Irrawaddy reported that authorities entered Suu Kyi's lakeside house on University Avenue at noon, reportedly to deliver a release warrant, according local journalists who were waiting outside her compound. However, according to news reports, the democracy leader was said to be negotiating the terms of her release, seeking an unconditional release although the junta is expected to place limitations on her travel and political activities. .

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and authorities seemed to be talking in the house after the release warrant was read," a reporter outside her residence told The Irrawaddy. However, despite widespread reports that she would be given her freedom on Friday, authorities said she would have to spend a final day under house arrest.

The junta was said to be hoping that freeing Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, would deflect domestic and international criticism of the election. The National Democratic Force, an offshoot of Suu Kyi's banned party, reportedly won 12 seats in the upper and lower houses and four regional assembly seats out of the 161 that it contested. Reports were rife of stacks of pro-government ballots being brought into polling places, particularly in Rangoon, to forestall more victories for the opposition, and of intimidation of voters to go to the polls whether they wanted to or not.

Agence France Presse reported that many believe that voter frustration could explode into civil unrest if the 65-year-old Suu Kyi were to remain locked up.

Although some expect that her release might ease the post-election disappointment, others say she is likely to be rearrested if she speaks out, or that travel restrictions may be placed on her. Still others believe the regime hopes her release will draw attention away from the rigged polls.

"We take it for granted that she is going to be released," a 40-year-old NGO worker told a member of a daring team of young undercover journalists covering the election for independent publications. "We must wait and hope for the best."

Tin Oo, a top leader in the National League for Democracy, said the party is not dead despite its formal dissolution by election officials.

"If she is released, our party will be much stronger and we can do more work," said Tin Oo, vice chairman of the NLD. "She will not just stand by and watch the fraud although she boycotted the elections."

"The NLD cannot be dissolved," Tin Oo said. "Though it has been working for humanitarian issues, it is not an NGO. It is doing this work as a party."

The party did not take part in Sunday's polls because it overwhelmingly won the last elections 20 years ago, results that were never honored by the military. The national election commission dissolved the party last month when it failed to register for the elections, but Tin Oo rejected the panel's move.

Certainly there is spreading voter outrage, with partial election results Thursday that indicated that the military's proxy party had gained 75 percent of parliamentary seats.

"This is insulting to the people," Myint Lwin, 55, a trader in Mandalay, told a member of the underground team. "They don't think we are humans."

Myint Lwin said he had voted for the opposition, which he said should have beaten the unpopular pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Party.

"This election was a sham since the beginning," said Shwe Yay, a motorcycle seller in Mandalay. "This result is not a truth. But we cannot change it."

State-run newspapers have reported 20 percent of the vote results so far. According to their tallies, the USDP has won more than 180 of 239 regional and national parliamentary seats. On its front page, the English-language New Light of Myanmar on Thursday listed winners for the lower house of parliament in order of their military rank. The paper began with Shwe Man, formerly the junta's No. 3 general, followed by Prime Minister Thein Sein, the former No. 4.

Both men and other military officials shed their uniforms to contest the polls as civilians. "They are shameless people," said a 49-year-old man in Magwe, in central Burma.

"Everyone already expected they would win. I was driving the car for election officials and I heard them asking villagers to vote for the USDP."

The country's first election in 20 years featured 37 political parties and more than 3,000 candidates vying for 1,159 seats. But the NLD boycotted the polls and other opposition parties fielded candidates for only a fraction of all seats.

The NLD, banned or not, has also been investigating complaints of election fraud and "dirty tricks," Tin Oo said. The junta-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, appears to have won an overwhelming victory at the polls, taking roughly three-quarters of all national and local legislative seats.

However, reports of intimidation and vote fraud were widespread, and several of the 37 registered parties have filed complaints.

"The NLD will let people and the international community know the truth," Tin Oo said.

Although the nation's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Suu Kyi's largely symbolic appeal of her house detention, she is expected to be freed. Her latest sentence, for 18 months, expires Saturday. Because of her widespread popularity, she is considered the greatest single threat to Senior General Than Shwe and his ruling clique of generals. She was still one of the number one issues in the campaign.

"She does appear to have huge relevancy here," British Ambassador Andrew Heyn said. "The fact that everyone is talking about her and her party was the landslide winner of the '90 elections. What she embodies is hope and unity, and both are in pretty short supply."

Suu Kyi is the only daughter of independence leader Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947. Educated in Oxford and married to a British academic, she left the UK for Burma in 1988 to care for her sick mother, and got caught up in the pro-democracy movement. She has refused to leave the country during her brief periods of freedom for fear the generals would not let her back in.

Thida, 38-year-old university teacher, said she was looking forward to Suu Kyi's release but planned to stay away from her old colonial house on University Avenue. "I dare not go near her house," she said, referring to her status as a government employee. "She must be happy now for she is going to meet people."

Aung Naing Lin, 25, who voted for the National Democratic Force, a breakaway party from NLD, said, "I think she will do something about how we are being cheated. What she says is much more effective than other people."