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Burma, once a pariah state brutalized by a military junta, will hold landmark elections on Nov. 8. The National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to do well, a quarter-century after the generals ignored its victory in the 1990 polls. Burma’s reforms prompted the West to lift most economic sanctions on Myanmar, as Burma is officially known. Still, major obstacles remain on the path toward democracy:


While the junta, which helmed one of the world’s most repressive regimes for about five decades, promised to transform the country into a “discipline-flourishing democracy,” the generals retain plenty of power. One-fourth of parliament is reserved for the military, and key leadership posts are to be filled only by top brass.


Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest by the junta for 15 years, is so beloved that thousands flock simply to hear her speak. But the junta designed the constitution to stop the Lady, as she is known, from ever becoming President.


Roughly one-third of Burma’s citizens belong to ethnic minorities, some of which feel persecuted by the country’s Bamar majority. Despite a recent cease-fire, the army continues to clash with ethnic militias; the vote has been canceled in certain battle zones. Meanwhile, in Burma’s far west, Muslim Rohingya have been forced into squalid camps, unable to vote. Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to defend Rohingya rights as extremist Buddhist monks lead an anti-Muslim movement. A single election will not be enough to heal these rifts.


This appears in the November 16, 2015 issue of TIME.

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