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In Burma's rare elections, fresh faced candidates run against the grain

Burma (Myanmar) goes to the polls on Nov. 7, offering its citizens a rare chance to defy its military rulers. Some believe it’s nothing more than a show designed to legitimize another dictatorial regime.

Pedestrians walk past a campaign billboard of Myanmar's military government backed Union Solidarity and Development Party on Oct. 27, in Yangon, Myanmar.

Khin Maung Win/AP

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Megaphone in hand, Yan Kyaw rounds the corner of another soot-blackened city block. Ahead of him, a gaggle of young volunteers in red T-shirts printed with their candidate’s symbol, a yellow lantern, pass out leaflets in shops and teashops. Others attach leaflets to the colored strings that dangle from apartment balconies, a combination of postbox and buzzer in a city starved of electricity.

Yan Kyaw, a lecturer running as an independent for parliament, speaks briefly into his megaphone, telling voters to cast their ballots freely and without fear. More faces peer over the balconies, and some begin to yank up their strings, eliciting smiles from the fresh-faced volunteers. “A good response today, very good,” says the aspiring lawmaker.

Burma (Myanmar) goes to the polls on Nov. 7, offering its citizens a rare chance to defy its military rulers. Some believe it’s nothing more than a show designed to legitimize another dictatorial regime. Western powers have heaped scorn on stifling restrictions that favor the junta’s political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the expense of the opposition.

The biggest battle

For Yan Kyaw and hundreds of other candidates running against the junta’s choices, the biggest battle is against a combination of apathy, skepticism, and deep divisions within the opposition. The result could be an even bigger than expected victory for the USDP, which is led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, a recently retired general, and is stuffed with junta allies.

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