Facts and figures about Myanmar's general election Sunday:
VOTING: There are more than 29 million eligible voters and 40,000 polling stations. Some 3,071 candidates from 37 political parties, along with 82 independent candidates, will contest 1,159 seats: 494 in the two-chamber Union Parliament and 665 spread among 14 regional parliaments. Cancellation of voting in areas where ethnic rebels are active will disenfranchise an estimated 1.5 million people.
PARTIES: Two parties dominate the field, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, and the National Unity Party, an outgrowth of the political machine of the late strongman Gen. Ne Win now associated with big business interests.
With 1,112 candidates, the USDP is almost certain to win the most seats, since it has substantial funding, nationwide organization and state power behind it.
The NUP is running 995 candidates, including 443 in the combined national parliament. The NUP is not especially popular because of its association with the late dictator but may win votes as the only alternative to the USDP in many places.
The third biggest party, the National Democratic Force, formed by breakaway members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, will field just 164 candidates, including 141 in the national parliament. Its attraction is as the main standard-bearer for the broadly defined pro-democracy movement.
Suu Kyi's NLD was disbanded because it declined to run, claiming the contest was unfair and undemocratic. It remains intact as an organization and a powerful influence and has reminded people that they need not vote — amounting to a veiled call for an election boycott.
ISSUES: The election amounts to a referendum on the junta's democratization plans. All parties pay at least lip service to democracy, while debate of the issues is restricted by law and intimidation. Opponents of the junta must choose between voting for any party but the USDP and not voting at all.
PROBLEMS: Critics — including many Western nations and international human rights groups — claim the polls are unfair and undemocratic. Many of the country's most dynamic opposition politicians, including Suu Kyi, are in detention. Requirements for candidates to pay a hefty deposit, restrictive rules on campaigning, and a tightly controlled media, with all daily newspapers and electronic media directly controlled by the government, pose serious difficulties for challengers. Foreign journalists and independent election observers from other countries are barred from entering the country.