But her candidacy has resurrected hope among Myanmar’s downtrodden masses, who have grown up for generations under strict military rule. If Mrs. Suu Kyi takes office as expected, it would symbolize a giant leap toward national reconciliation.
“She may not be able to do anything at this stage,” said one voter, Go Khehtay, who cast his ballot for Mrs. Suu Kyi at Wah Thin Kha, one of the dirt-poor villages in the rural constituency south of Yangon that she was vying to represent. “But one day, I believe she’ll be able to bring real change.”
Earlier, crowds of supporters mobbed Mrs. Suu Kyi as she visited a polling station in the village after spending the night there. The tiny community of 3,000 farmers has no electricity or running water, and its near-total underdevelopment illustrates the profound challenges facing the country as it slowly emerges from 49 years of army rule.
Despite the reports of widespread irregularities, a confirmed victory by Mrs. Suu Kyi could cheer Western powers and nudge them closer to easing economic sanctions they have imposed on the country for years.
Mrs. Suu Kyi herself told reporters Friday that the campaigning for Sunday’s vote been anything but free or fair, but that she was pressing for forward with her candidacy because it’s “what our people want.”
Last year, Myanmar’s long-entrenched military junta handed power to a civilian government dominated by retired officers that skeptics decried as a proxy for continued military rule. But the new rulers — who came to power in a 2010 vote that critics say was neither free nor fair — have surprised the world with a wave of reform.
The government of President Thein Sein, himself a retired lieutenant general, has freed political prisoners, signed truces with rebel groups and opened a direct dialogue with Mrs. Suu Kyi, who wields enough moral authority to greatly influence the Myanmar policy of the U.S. and other powers.
Mrs. Suu Kyi’s decision to endorse Thein Sein’s reforms so far and run in Sunday’s election represents a political gamble.
Once in Parliament, she can seek to influence policy and challenge the government from within, but she also risks legitimizing a regime she has fought against for decades while gaining little true legislative power.
Mrs. Suu Kyi is in a “strategic symbiosis” with some of the country’s generals and ex-generals, said Maung Zarni, a Myanmar expert and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics.
“They need her and she needs them to break the 25 years of political stalemate,” Mr. Zarni said. “She holds the key for the regime’s need for its international acceptance and normalization.”
Sunday’s poll marks the first foray into electoral politics by Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party since winning a landslide election victory in 1990. The military annulled those results and kept Mrs. Suu Kyi in detention for much of the next two decades. The party boycotted the last vote in 2010, but in January the government amended key electoral laws, paving the way for a run in this weekend’s ballot.