A lifetime of frustration in Burmese politics has not wearied Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein. Her years as a political prisoner have not blunted her sense of humour.
"Some people call us the 'three princesses of Burma', but to the government, we are the three witches," she laughs as, free now, she walks through the gardens of her once stately, now crumbling colonial home on a hilltop in the Burmese capital.
The "princesses" – she, Nay Ye Ba Swe, and Mya Than Than Nu – are too old for fairytales, she says, and the appellation she still finds faintly humorous.
They are princesses because their fathers were all prime ministers of Burma, part of the revered generation that fought for, and in 1948 won, freedom from British rule before it was snatched away again in a military coup in 1962.
The daughters have been friends since childhood, and have remained part of each others' lives despite long years in prison and in exile.
All are free now, though they are watched constantly and regularly harassed by the military's special branch and its network of undercover spies. Arranging to meet is still fraught with risk. The interview with the Guardian is the first they have ever given together.
The fourth daughter alongside whom they grew up, Burma's most famous democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.
"She is like a sister to us," Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein says. "Our fathers were the best of friends with Suu's father."
Nearly half a century since their fathers were in power, the daughters see themselves as carrying on their families' work, still fighting for democracy in a country that has known it for only 14 short years of a troubled history.
They have announced their candidacy as secretaries-general of the newly formed Democratic party, and will stand in this year's promised elections.
It is a hopeless fight, however, and they know it: three women, backed by a hastily created, barely funded party against the might of a military junta which has ruled Burma with an iron fist for 48 years. But they spend their days, and their shoestring budget, knocking on village doors, trying to convince people too frightened speak to politicians of the importance not just of voting for them, but of voting at all.
This is a country that has not held an election since 1990. Internationally, this year's poll has been condemned even before a date has been set as a sham rigged to entrench military rule.
But the daughters see merit in giving people a choice that is not the military and hope the ballot will be the first step in a gradual move to democracy.
They have seen too many efforts at sudden revolutionary change – the student uprising of 1988, the monk-led saffron revolution in 2007 – flare brightly but ultimately fail amid military violence to be swayed by promises of instant reform.
Nay Ye Ba Swe says change in Burma will be slow. "To establish a credible democratic system will take a decade or more. We need to go slowly, step by step, because we know we are facing a very tough situation. We just can't go ahead and expect democracy overnight – we have to give it time, and make sacrifices."
Flawed though these elections will be, the daughters believe participation is better than boycott.
"I firmly believe … without participating in this election, you won't get democracy smoothly," says Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein. "I want to change the system and the government … but I don't want to go through more bloodshed or a lot of people being sent to Insein [prison]."
The three women are saddened that their "sister" Aung San Suu Kyi will not have her name on a ballot paper. Her continuing detention, combined with electoral laws that appear to have been deliberately written to exclude her, has meant that she cannot take part in the election. In response, her party, the National League for Democracy, has chosen to boycott the poll. "She is very much loved and respected by the Burmese people and boycotting the election is her own decision. We really hoped that she would participate together with us in this election, but she said no and we can't do anything," Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein says.
Like Aung San Suu Kyi, she knows the price of a life in politics in Burma. She grew up in the heady days after the second world war and watched as her father reached the post of deputy prime minister during the country's fractious early days of self-governance.
But after the military seized control of the country her family was targeted. In 1990 she followed her father, mother and two brothers into jail for her opposition to the ruling military. She spent seven years in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison, "a horrible place to live, like hell".
But few people in Burma have her background in politics. No one in the country under the age of 38 has ever voted before – and the results of the 1990 elections, won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's party, were ignored by the junta.
Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein says getting people to the ballot box in a country where political opposition is violently crushed is the priority for the 31 opposition and ethnic minority parties that have so far registered for the election.
"When I went around the country, people are very scared of politicians. They don't want to come near us, they say it is safer to stay away from the politicians, or they will be bullied by the government.
"I said, 'you've got to know this is your right', we have been deprived of this right to vote since 1962 … we have been living under these rules and hardships under the military regime for so long … but this is the right time."
Mya Than Than Nu's father, U Nu, was Burma's first democratically elected prime minister, and also its last. During his third stint in office, he was overthrown in a military coup and jailed. He spent much of the rest of his life in exile in India and the UK. But before he died in 1995, U Nu told his daughter there was unfinished business in his homeland.
"My father said to me, 'You have done much for people all over the world. You need to go back to work for your own people. The people of Burma need you more'."