YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar is to hold by-elections on April 1, state media announced on Friday, which could propel democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi into the army-dominated parliament.
"The by-election will take place on Sunday April 1, 2012," said an announcement by the Union Election Commission, read out on state radio and television.
Suu Kyi, who officially registered her opposition party a week ago, has already said she intends to stand in the polls.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) was given the green light by authorities to rejoin mainstream politics earlier this month, but is waiting for official approval of its application.
Suu Kyi, 66, spent much of the past two decades in detention until she was released from house arrest a few days after a controversial November 2010 general election.
The upcoming vote will offer her an opportunity to seek to enter a parliament that remains dominated by allies of the former military junta.
Those who wish to take part will need to register between January 16 and 31, according to the Union Election Commission announcement.
A total of 48 seats are up for grabs -- 40 in the lower house, six in the upper house and two in the regional assemblies.
The by-election is to fill places vacated by those elected in the November 2010 vote who have since become ministers and deputy ministers in the government.
The number of available seats is not enough to threaten the resounding majority held by the ruling military-backed party.
One quarter of parliament's seats are taken up by the army while the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is packed with former military men, holds about 80 percent of the remainder.
The NLD was stripped of its status as a legal political party by the junta last year after it chose to boycott the 2010 poll.
But relations between the new government and the opposition have seen a significant thaw in recent months, with high profile dialogue between former generals, including the president, and Suu Kyi.
The Nobel Laureate expressed cautious hope that democracy would come to her country, during a meeting with Hillary Clinton as part of a landmark visit by the US Secretary of State earlier this month.
Myanmar's new government, which came to power in March, has made a series of reformist moves in an apparent attempt to improve its international standing.
These included releasing some of the country's many political prisoners, suspending construction of an unpopular Chinese-backed mega-dam and holding peace talks with the country's main armed ethnic groups.
The NLD won an election in 1990 by a landslide, while the democracy campaigner was under house arrest, but the ruling generals disregarded the result.
Suu Kyi's party refused to take part in last year's poll -- the first in two decades -- mainly because of rules that would have forced it to expel imprisoned members.
But an amendment to a law on political parties has since removed the contentious clause that said prisoners could not be party members, as well as a condition that all parties must agree to "preserve" a controversial 2008 constitution.
The NLD recently chose the image of a fighting peacock craning towards a white star as its new ballot symbol, replacing its trademark bamboo hat, which was used by a breakaway group that participated in the 2010 election.
Further details of the by-elections are expected to be announced in local newspapers on Saturday.
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