Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party said Monday that the authorities had lifted campaign restrictions ahead of closely watched by-elections, just hours after it made a complaint.
“They withdrew the restrictions. We can campaign freely,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s National League for Democracy party, told AFP.
“It’s a very significant change. We are still hoping for fair play.”
Earlier Monday the NLD had called a news conference to complain that it was being denied the use of sports grounds to hold rallies ahead of the April 1 polls, warning that the fairness of the vote was under threat.
Suu Kyi, whose party boycotted a 2010 election because it thought the rules were unfair, is standing for a seat in parliament for the first time.
The 2010 vote, which swept the army’s political allies to power, was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and intimidation.
The democracy icon has drawn crowds of tens of thousands of cheering supporters on the campaign trail, posing a security headache for her party.
Earlier this month she postponed a trip to the central city of Mandalay because her party said the venue offered by the authorities was too small.
The NLD announced at the press conference that it had also been denied permission to use a venue in northern Kachin State for a planned speech by Suu Kyi later this week.
But just hours later the party said it had received the green light from the election authorities.
“They said that they can take care of Aung San Suu Kyi’s security in the cities… but they cannot reach the remote areas easily,” Nyan Win told AFP.
Suu Kyi’s decision to stand for a seat in parliament is the latest sign of dramatic change taking place in the country after the end last year of nearly half a century of outright military rule.
The regime has surprised observers with reforms including welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream, signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.
The new military-backed government, which is dominated by former generals, assured visiting top EU officials last week that the vote would be democratic.
The opposition cannot threaten the ruling party’s majority even if it takes all 48 available seats in the by-elections, but a Suu Kyi win would lend legitimacy to the fledgling parliament.
The NLD party won a landslide victory in an election in 1990, but the then-ruling junta never allowed the party to take power.
Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time. She was released from her latest stint in detention a few days after the 2010 vote.
Western nations are now considering further easing sanctions, adding to hopes of an end to decades of isolation, but controversy surrounding the 2010 vote means the upcoming by-elections will be heavily scrutinised.
The United States has also expressed concern about the recent brief detention of the prominent Buddhist monk Gambira, one of the leaders of a failed 2007 uprising, less than a month after he was freed from jail.
Burmese state media said Sunday that Gambira faced charges of illegally occupying one monastery in Rangoon and breaking into two others.