REUTERS - Myanmar has invited a team of five monitors from Southeast Asian countries to oversee crucial April 1 parliamentary by-elections that will be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said in a statement on Tuesday that Myanmar had asked it to send the observer team, and to contact each of the bloc's 10 members to ask them to send two parliamentarians and three journalists to attend the ballot.
Myanmar has requested that those invited arrive in the commercial capital, Yangon, on March 28 -- just four days before the election, which will be held in 48 constituencies.
The move by Myanmar is thought to be an attempt at improving transparency after a 2010 general election that was marred by allegations of fraud, and widely dismissed as a sham to favour a party created by the then military junta. There were no observers or journalists officially invited.
It is unclear whether the international community, which is reviewing sanctions on Myanmar and has urged fair and fair polls, will consider a five-member team with little time to prepare as sufficient to properly assess voting conditions.
"The April by-elections have attracted a lot of attention. Myanmar has urged relevant countries to lift their sanctions, and allow the country to pursue its development, and to improve the living standards of its people," the ASEAN statement said.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has repeatedly complained of irregularities on voter lists, which it says could threaten the fairness of the election.
The decision to invite observers came after President Thein Sein met ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan in Naypyitaw on February 20, during which the former junta general said he would "seriously consider" ASEAN's offer of observers.
Myanmar has repeatedly promised to pull out all the stops to ensure the vote is free and fair and has welcomed Suu Kyi's bid to become a lawmaker, which would be a boost for a legislature that, while grand in scale, has very limited powers.
Suu Kyi's aim, if elected, is to amend a 2008 constitution that enshrines the military's leadership role in politics, which would be a bold move in a country run by the army for 49 years and still led by former generals of the old guard.
Reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok; Editing by Daniel Magnowski