NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised fears today for crucial November elections as the government tried to calm political tensions after the surprise ousting of the ruling party chief.
Last week's dramatic removal of Shwe Mann as head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was seen as a decisive swoop by President Thein Sein and his military allies to tighten their political grip before the polls.
Speaking as MPs gathered in the capital Naypyidaw for a final round of parliamentary meetings before the November 8 vote, Suu Kyi said the ruling party move had stoked concerns for the elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms.
"People are worried. We all have a responsibility for that," she told a scrum of reporters.
The Nobel laureate also added her voice to concerns raised by the United States and Britain in recent days over how Shwe Mann was removed. Security personnel entered the USDP headquarters late Wednesday.
"This is not what you expect in a working democracy," she said, adding that conflict within the USDP would likely boost support for her National League for Democracy, which is expected to make significant gains in the elections.
The opposition leader's cordial political relationship with Shwe Mann, who retains his influential role as parliament speaker, had led to speculation they were planning an alliance that would have challenged the still-powerful military.
Shwe Mann had been widely tipped as a potential compromise presidential candidate. Suu Kyi herself cannot run under the junta-drafted constitution.
Observers say his public support for her attempts to change the charter had antagonised the army, which is determined to safeguard its political influence.
November's elections are for parliamentary seats -- although 25 per cent of the legislature is reserved for unelected soldiers -- and the powerful role of president will later be selected by MPs.
Thein Sein has not ruled out a second term.
The government tried today to play down the political uncertainty. It described Shwe Mann's ousting as "part of a normal course of business" for a political party, in a statement published in the state-backed New Light of Myanmar.
It reaffirmed its commitment to the vote, which many hope will be the freest in modern history for a nation that withered under military rule for nearly half a century.
"The government shall unconditionally accept the results of the elections," it added.