Official campaigning begins for first Myanmar elections in 20 years

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Campaigning has begun in Myanmar for November elections, with state television and radio broadcasting the first officially sanctioned party announcements.

The National Unity Party, descendant of the party that ruled under late strongman Ne Win, who held power from 1962 until 1988, made the first broadcast Friday night. A transcript was printed in state-run newspapers Saturday.

The ruling junta plans to hold general elections on Nov. 7, the first in 20 years. Detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in the 1990 polls, but was not allowed to take power by the military. It decided to boycott this year's elections, charging that the process is unfair and undemocratic.

The government announced last week that the 37 political parties contesting the elections will each be allowed 15 minutes of airtime to describe their party platforms.

Parties have to apply for permission seven days ahead of time and submit the texts of their party policies for approval by the Election Commission.

During the National Unity Party's 15-minute broadcast, joint secretary Khin Maung Gyi presented its policies and urged people to "correctly choose reliable candidates."

He said the party would ensure basic human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and religion within the framework of the constitution and would combat bribery and corruption.

The party is not especially popular because of its association with the late dictator. However, it is well funded, and with nearly 990 candidates running, it is the only party that can come close to fielding the same number as the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which has more than 1,100 candidates.