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Myanmar to hold general election on November 8

Wednesday, July 08, 2015, 19:00 GMT+7

Myanmar officials on Wednesday announced November 8 as the date for a historic general election set to be the first contested by Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition in a quarter of a century.

The announcement fires the starting gun for the much-anticipated poll in the former junta-run nation, which has launched a series of reforms since the end of outright military rule in 2011.

"The general election will be held on November 8. The Union Election Commission will announce further details later," Thant Zin Aung, deputy director of Yangon's election commission, told AFP of the vote, which will select MPs for both houses of parliament.

A president will be chosen later by parliament, but Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from taking the top job.

The Nobel laureate's National League for Democracy (NLD) party did not immediately confirm it would participate in the polls, although it is widely expected to make huge gains at the ballot box.

“We cannot say whether we will take part right now. We need to hold a meeting to make a decision,” spokesman Nyan Win told AFP.

For many of Myanmar's roughly 30 million voters the election could be the first-ever chance to cast their votes in a nationwide poll contested by the country's main opposition.

The NLD won nationwide polls in 1990, while Suu Kyi was under house arrest, but was prevented from taking power by the military, who plunged the country into isolation for decades.

Suu Kyi spent some 15 years under house arrest and was still locked up during the last general election in 2010, which was boycotted by the NLD and riven with flaws and accusations of cheating.

But the veteran campaigner and 44 of her party members now sit in parliament following a 2012 by-election held as part of sweeping reforms under a quasi-civilian government dominated by former generals that replaced nearly half a century of military rule.

- Stalling reforms -

The government under President Thein Sein, a former general, has been credited with ending draconian media censorship, freeing political prisoners and launching economic reforms that have seen the lifting of most Western sanctions.

But Suu Kyi and rights campaigners have increasingly warned that reforms have stalled or even reversed in some areas, with dozens of student protesters behind bars and the tightening of media freedoms.

Last month she vowed not to "back down" from the election despite defeat in a parliamentary vote aimed at ending the military's effective veto on constitutional change.

Myanmar's parliament continues to be dominated by the army, with a quarter of the seats reserved for unelected soldiers. This provision means any major charter change needs a majority of more than 75 percent -- giving the military the final say.

The result of the recent vote virtually extinguished Suu Kyi's chances of the presidency at this stage because of a provision excluding those with foreign children from the top office. Her sons are British.

With Suu Kyi barred from the top job and no obvious second candidate within the NLD, observers predict the party could end up supporting a presidential candidate outside its ranks.

Experts fear that horsetrading between the election and the announcement of presidential candidates several months later could trigger instability in the nation, where the military has a history of slamming down on dissent.

The NLD has already raised concerns that voter lists displayed across the country are riven with inaccuracies.

Election officials on Wednesday conceded that the lists contain errors, blaming technical faults and staff shortages.

The NLD, which has come under fire for failing to outline specific policy ideas as the poll looms, Wednesday said it was poised to release a much-awaited statement on the economy, health, security and education.



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