Election Troubles Grow for Myanmar’s Opposition as Army Tightens Grip

Election Troubles Grow for Myanmar’s Opposition as Army Tightens Grip
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of Martyrs' Day at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy Party, Yangon, Myanmar, July 19, 2015 (AP photo by Khin Maung Win).

After months of deliberation and conflicting public statements, it’s finally official: Myanmar’s principal opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), will contest elections set for Nov. 8. Party leader and venerated pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi made the announcement last month, despite expressed reservations that the election will not be completely fair.

Those sentiments have grown this month, after deadly floods in much of the country killed nearly 100 people and displaced more than 250,000. Suu Kyi and other opposition members worry that Myanmar’s generals may use the floods as an excuse to delay or interfere in the poll. “We do not want this natural disaster to be a reason for upsetting the necessary political process without which our country will not be able to make long term progress,” she said in a video posted online earier this month.

In another ominous sign, the head of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was ousted from his post last week after security forces surrounded the party’s headquarters. Observers likened Shwe Mann’s removal to a purge—all too familiar under the decades of military rule that nominally ended in 2011. Seen as a leading presidential candidate, Shwe Mann, who still retains his post as speaker of parliament, had emerged as an informal ally of Suu Kyi and a key contact for the United States on Myanmar’s democratic transition. Many of his allies in the party leadership were also removed, replaced by supporters of PresidentThein Sein. A showdown now looms in parliament.

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