- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2012

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar election authorities lifted restrictions on political campaigning Monday in an unusually swift response to complaints by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

The National League for Democracy said earlier in the day that the restrictions risked making upcoming by-elections unfair.

The state Union Election Commission’s decision to lift all restrictions was unusual. Bureaucratic wheels grind slowly even where there are no political hurdles in the country where an elected, nominally civilian government took office almost a year ago after a half-century of military rule.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win had said the party was facing difficulty in getting permission to use public venues for its meetings ahead of the April 1 polls.

“What we want is fair play but the restrictions have increased lately. It is very difficult to say that the upcoming by-elections could be free and fair,” Nyan Win told reporters.

Later Monday, however, he said the state Union Election Commission had informed the party that “all restrictions are lifted for the organizational activities.”

“There is now a flicker of hope,” Nyan Win commented.

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is running for one of the 48 parliamentary seats being contested in April. Her party overwhelmingly won a 1990 general election but the military refused to allow it to take power.

The NLD boycotted a 2010 general election, saying the rules were unfair. It agreed to rejoin electoral politics last year when the new military-backed elected president, Thein Sein, began implementing democratic reforms.

The government has released political prisoners and amended some election laws among other changes, while arguing that Western political and economic sanctions imposed because of the repression under the past military regime should be lifted.

The U.S. and other nations have specifically cited a fair election as a benchmark by which Thein Sein’s administration will be judged.

Nyan Win, also the NLD’s campaign manager, had said some government organizations blocked the party’s campaign activities even though the election commission had approved them.

He said Sports Minister Tint Hsan had objected to the NLD’s use of football fields in three constituencies — Hlegu in northern Yangon, the central city of Mandalay and the Irrawaddy delta town of Phyapon — after local election commissions had approved such meetings.

Tint Hsan’s son, Phyo Ko Ko Tint Hsan, is a candidate in the by-elections for the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Nyan Win also said the election commission in Mogaung township in Kachin State had refused to allow the NLD to organize in a village called Namti on security grounds.

Sporadic but sometimes fierce fighting has been waged in Kachin state between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels, who have long sought more autonomy and have faced increased repression in the past year.

“The authorities said they will not give permission for the NLD to campaign in Namti village because of security reasons. If security in the region is good enough for the government to hold elections, then it is inappropriate to ban organizational activity based on security grounds,” Nyan Win said.

Nyan Win said the party would now be allowed to campaign in Namti. Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Kachin State this Thursday and Friday on an organizational trip.

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