There is optimism in Myanmar that elections this Sunday in the army-ruled southeast Asian Republic could finally introduce a taste of democracy.
Opposition voices hope to secure a small share of the seats in parliament, which is dominated by military-backed members.
The army here claims political legitimacy from a constitution it drew up in 2008.
But lately those at the top have signalled an openness for more representative government.
The opposition National League for Democracy is taking part in Sunday’s by-elections for 45 seats.
Its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-time standard-bearer for democracy in Myanmar, appears convinced enough about a potential for change to run for parliament herself.
If the international community find the polls free and fair, the West might take steps to lift economic sanctions imposed against the junta.
President Thein Sein last August ordered the Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi released after a total of 15 years of house arrest.
Suu Kyi said: “I think the President was perfectly sincere when he said that he wanted to bring true democracy to Burma and that he wanted to make all efforts possible towards achieving it.”
A longstanding conflict which recently escalated brutally between the Yangon government and rebels in northern Kachin state demands attention.
Underdeveloped yet resource-rich Myanmar established its independence from the British in 1948.
It has remained almost hermetically isolated for decades, and experts warn not to expect too much too fast.
Khin Zaw Win, Director of the Tampadipa Institute think tank, said: “As we all know, those matters, like the ethnic conflicts that have plagued this country for the past 60 years, have not been resolved. So I think just to barge ahead without paying any attention to these unresolved problems is a very risky and dangerous move.”
Talks between the Kachin Army and Yangon have been held on seven occasions since August, but have made no progress. The northerners say the fighting has reached a stage of “total annihilation”.
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