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Myanmar to consider allowing neighbors to observe elections

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the campaign trail ahead of the April 1 by-elections.

Story highlights

  • Myanmar is due to hold by-elections in April after a series of political reforms
  • Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party are participating in the elections
  • Suu Kyi's party is putting up candidates for all 48 parliamentary seats

The Myanmar government will "seriously consider" accepting observers from neighboring countries to monitor elections taking place in April, a regional organization said Tuesday.

In a meeting Tuesday with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, President Thein Sein said Myanmar would consider allowing observers from the association to watch the elections.

"The two leaders agreed that such a move will boost transparency, which will add to the international goodwill that Myanmar had attracted so far," the association said in a statement.

Thein Sein met with ASEAN's Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar.

The 10-member association is comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Its goal is to promote economic growth and regional stability.

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The international community has applauded recent political reforms in Myanmar, long secluded from the rest of the world after a military junta grabbed power in 1962. The generals have begun loosening their grip after international sanctions and criticism over their regime's human rights record.

After boycotting elections in 2010, the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party will participate in the April by-elections.

Suu Kyi registered last month to run for a parliamentary seat in Kawhmu after the regime agreed to negotiate with an ethnic rebel group and pardoned hundreds of political prisoners.

Her party, the National League for Democracy, is putting up candidates for all 48 parliamentary seats that are being contested.

Suu Kyi and her supporters, as well as international political leaders, have urged Thein Sein's government to ensure that the elections are carried out in a free and fair manner.

Representatives from ASEAN allowed into Myanmar in 2010 did not carry out thorough monitoring of the elections that year, said Aung Saw, editor of the Myanamar exile magazine Irrawaddy, which is based in Thailand.

"They were just taken to a few polling stations, that's it," he said.

Western governments have made a number of gestures in recognition of Myanmar's recent political changes -- the United States announced in January that it would exchange ambassadors with the country for the first time since 1988. But the April by-elections are seen as a key gauge of the government's commitment to reform.

The international attention trained on the elections may prompt the Myanmar government to allow more rigorous monitoring this time around, Aung Saw said.

He noted that the Thailand-based Asian Network for Free Elections, which aims to promote and support democratization, is an example of a regional body that could provide independent election monitoring.

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