Kawhmu (Myanmar), Feb 11: Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will today begin campaigning in the constituency near Yangon where she is standing for parliament after years of official marginalisation.
The democracy icon has already taken two campaign trips outside her home city ahead of April's crucial by-elections, but this is her first day taking to the streets in the rural township of Kawhmu, where she is contesting the vote.
The polls have huge symbolic value as the first time Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been able to directly participate in a Myanmar election.
"I hope they will be free and fair. There have been a few hitches but I hope that these will be sorted out," she told AFP yesterday.
Suu Kyi is expected to be greeted by thousands of cheering supporters in Kawhmu, as she has been on recent pre-election trips to the Irrawaddy delta and the southern city of Dawei.
Her participation is likely to lend legitimacy to the country's parliament, which first convened early last year and is dominated by former generals who kept her in detention for much of the past two decades.
Suu Kyi was released from house arrest a few days after a widely-criticised election in 2010, and the upcoming polls are being held to fill places vacated by those who have since become government ministers and deputy ministers.
The NLD is running for all 48 seats up for grabs, but even taking all of them would not threaten the army-backed ruling party's majority.
"We will work very hard to win all 48 seats. It's not a matter of expectations, it's a matter of hard work," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said ahead of the campaign day.
Controversy surrounding the 2010 vote means the upcoming by-elections will be heavily scrutinised.
But the new regime has impressed even sceptics with its reform process, which has included welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream and signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels.
The release of hundreds of political prisoners has been particularly welcomed by sanctions-imposing Western powers, leading the United States to begin restoring full diplomatic relations with Myanmar.
On Monday, Washington also announced a waiver to allow assessments in the country by international financial institutions.