Myanmar's main opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has decided to rejoin politics and legally register to take part in future elections.
Friday's decision signals its confidence in recent political reforms by the government that took power after the country's military rulers upheld their promise to hold elections in November 2010 and relinquish power.
The National League for Democracy party (NLD) "has unanimously decided to re-register as a political party and will run in the elections'', according to a party statement issued at the end of a meeting of senior members from across the country.
Earlier, senior members, including Myanmar's pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke out in favour of joining the political arena because of reforms initiated by the government, which have drawn cautious approval from the United States.
'Flickers of progress'
Barack Obama, the US president, announced on Friday that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, would visit Myanmar early next month, the first such trip in more than 50 years, after what he said were "flickers of progress".
The NLD refused to register last year because of a restriction that would have prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from running.
The restriction was lifted this year by the new government that took office following the general election held in November 2010 by the military leadership as part of its promise to restore democracy and relinquish power.
"Personally I am for re-registration," Aung San Suu Kyi said in her speech to the delegates, gathered at the party headquarters in Yangon.
Any party that registers itself is required to run for at least three seats in the still-unscheduled by-elections for the 48 vacant seats in parliament. The legislature comprises 224 members in the upper house and 440 members in the lower house.
"Instead of participating in three seats in the by-elections, I would prefer to take part in all 48 seats,'' Aung San Suu Kyi said. When that happens, it would be the first electoral test of NLD's popularity - and that of Aung San Suu Kyi - in more than two decades.
It is likely that Aung San Suu Kyi would run for office, said NLD spokesman Nyan Win. He said the party will file registration papers with the Election Commission in the capital, Naypyitaw, "as soon possible".
Political climate 'has changed'
The NLD's refusal to register last year was mainly because of an election law that required political parties to expel members who were incarcerated.
The clause appeared to target Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest by the military rule. The NLD subsequently boycotted the November 2010 elections.
However, Myanmar's new civilian government, headed by a former army officer and prime minister, has shown a willingness to deal with Aung San Suu Kyi. It also has lifted some restrictions on the Internet, legalised unions and abandoned an unpopular dam project.
Bringing Aung San Suu Kyi's party back into the fold would give the government greater legitimacy at home and abroad.
"The NLD has to re-register if the party wants to join the political arena. The political climate has changed compared to 2010 and we have to make a practical decision,'' Aung Myo, an NLD member from Sagaing region, said.
The NLD overwhelmingly won a 1990 general election, but the ruling faction refused to honour the results. The military rule kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest during different periods for a total of 15 years.
She was freed just after the elections and is now free to move about and meet people. The government also continues to hold hundreds of political prisoners although there are moves to free many of them.
Obama, who is in Bali, Indonesia, to attend the summit of the regional grouping ASEAN, said Myanmar had shown signs of progress on reforms.
Myanmar could establish a new relationship with the US provided it moved forward with the reforms, he said.
"There is more that needs to be done to pursue the future that the Burmese people deserve," he said, noting that the country would "continue to face sanctions and isolation" if steps were not taken towards more democracy and human rights.
In an address to the Australian parliament on Thursday, Obama said Myanmar had opened a dialogue on reform but had to do more to improve human rights.
Myanmar's new civilian rulers released about 230 political prisoners last month and a senior official from the country's
home ministry said on Wednesday that authorities were ready to proceed with further releases of activists.
Southeast Asian nations endorsed Myanmar on Thursday for the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014, in the hope that the country can stick to reforms begun this year that could lead it out of half a century of isolation.