THANLYIN, Myanmar (AP) — Ecstatic cheers of "Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi!" echoed through the streets of this impoverished Yangon suburb Wednesday as Myanmar's most iconic figure registered her candidacy for a parliamentary by-election.
Throngs of flag-waving supporters crowded the local election office to shout support and catch a glimpse of the Nobel Peace laureate, who became Myanmar's most recognizable face during years of house arrest under authoritarian rule.
Suu Kyi's decision to contest the April polls is the latest vote of confidence for reforms by the country's new, nominally civilian government. Since taking office in March, authorities have released hundreds of prominent political prisoners, signed cease-fires with ethnic rebels, increased press freedoms and opened a dialogue with Suu Kyi herself.
Even if Suu Kyi's party wins all 48 seats to be contested April 1, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house of Parliament is heavily weighted with military appointees and allies of the former junta.
But a victory would be historic. It would give the longtime political prisoner a voice in Parliament for the first time in her decades-long role as the country's opposition leader.
Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon where villagers' livelihoods were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Crowds greeted her at the local Election Commission office in Thanlyin, many wearing Suu Kyi T-shirts.
The Election Commission must still accept Suu Kyi's candidacy, a ruling expected to come next month. Her party has so far chosen 44 candidates to contest the 48 seats vacated by lawmakers who became Cabinet ministers.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but was denied power by the military junta. Suu Kyi herself was under house arrest during those elections and barred from running.
In 2010, the military held another general election, but Suu Kyi's party said the rules were unfair and declined to participate.
Reforms since the election have prompted Suu Kyi to change their mind and drawn praise from the international community.
The United States announced recently it would upgrade diplomatic relations with the country and send an ambassador to Myanmar for the first time in two decades.
President Barack Obama praised the recent release of hundreds of political prisoners as "a substantial step forward for democratic reform."