Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's opposition leader, has said that campaign irregularities threaten the fairness of upcoming by-elections, but vowed to press forward with her bid for a seat in parliament for the sake of the country.
"I don't think we can consider it a genuine free and fair election if we consider what has been happening here over the last few months," Suu Kyi told a news conference on Friday.
The Nobel laureate, who spent most of the past 22 years as a political prisoner, complained of a series of problems, including "many, many cases of intimidation" as well as the vandalism of signboards.
The democracy icon said opposition candidates had been targeted in stone-throwing incidents and other intimidation that hampered their campaigning in the run-up to a vote that is considered a crucial test of Myanmar's commitment to democratic reforms.
The irregularities are "really beyond what's acceptable in a democratic election", she added. "Still, we are determined to go forward because this is what our people want."
She said the polls were boosting people's interest in politics in the country, formerly known as Burma, after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
"It is the rising political awareness of our people that we regard as our greatest triumph," she said. "We don't at all regret having taken part."
The 66-year-old is standing for election in a parliamentary constituency south of Yangon as a candidate for the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party which she led to a landslide election victory in 1990 but was never allowed to take office.
Experts believe the regime wants Suu Kyi to win a seat in a parliament dominated by the army and its political allies to burnish its reform credentials and encourage an end to Western sanctions.
But Suu Kyi said that she had no plan to accept a position as a minister in the army-backed government if offered, because under the constitution she would be required to give up her seat in parliament.
"I have no intention of leaving the parliament to which I have tried so hard to get into," she said. But she indicated that she might be willing to take on some kind of non-ministerial role.
The forthcoming by-elections follow a 2010 election that swept the army's political proxies to power but was marred by complaints of cheating and intimidation, as well as the exclusion of Suu Kyi.
The NLD has also complained about what it described as "unfair treatment" by the authorities ahead of Sunday's vote.
It complained that it was not allowed to use suitable venues for campaign rallies, while in the constituency where Suu Kyi is standing, the names of hundreds of dead people were found on the electoral roll.
Thein Sein, the country's president, acknowledged in a recent speech that there had been "unnecessary errors" in ballot lists, but said the authorities were trying to ensure the by-elections would be free and fair.
Since taking office a year ago, Sein has carried out reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, easing media restrictions and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics.
Unlike in 2010, the government has invited foreign observers and journalists to witness a vote seen as a major test of its reform credentials.
The 45 seats at stake in Sunday's vote are not enough to threaten the ruling party's overwhelming majority in parliament, but Suu Kyi described the vote as "a step towards step one in democracy".
A gruelling schedule of rallies and speeches has taken its toll on the health of the opposition leader, who cancelled campaigning this week after she fell ill and was put on a drip during a trip to the south.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|