A senior U.S. official says rising religious intolerance threatens the unity of Myanmar as the former pariah state prepares for landmark Nov. 8 elections.

The top diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, is criticizing the election commission's disqualification of dozens of parliamentary candidates, many of them Muslims, and the disenfranchisement of stateless Rohingya, who were allowed to vote in previous elections.

Russel, who visited the Southeast Asian nation last week, said Friday the current government needs to "push back against the infusion of intolerance in the political scene."

But despite the problems, Russel says the elections can be a significant step forward in Myanmar's transition from five decades of military rule.

He said activists in Myanmar say the election preparations have been transparent and the vote will be "genuinely contested."