In three days, Myanmar will hold its first democratic national election in 25 years — a historic moment for a country that has transformed itself from a military dictatorship, isolated from the West, to a quasi-civilian government embraced by the Obama administration for its progress toward democracy. Along the way, the government wrote a new constitution, freed more than 1,000 political prisoners and released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from years of house arrest. In a much smaller by-election in 2012, she won a seat in parliament. But this is not a truly free and fair vote. Of the 664 seats in parliament, a quarter are reserved for military officials. The constitution also states that no president may have a spouse or children who are foreign citizens, a provision widely considered to be aimed at preventing Suu Kyi from becoming president. She is the widow of a British national and has two sons with foreign passports. If her party were to win a majority, she could not be chosen as president. (The president is selected by the parliament.)
While there have been plenty of campaign rallies, candidates are not allowed to criticize the military on state-run media. Two activists were arrested for posting satirical material online. The government’s election commission has canceled balloting in more than 400 villages without clearly explaining its reasons, according to the Carter Center, which has been monitoring the campaign.
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And the government has rescinded the right to vote of thousands of ethnic minorities. Most of the disqualified were Rohingya Muslims, who have long faced persecution. An ultranationalist, anti-Muslim movement in this majority Buddhist country has only gained more attention as the election nears.