Myanmar election law bars Aung San Suu Kyi from polls

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

YANGON - Myanmar’s new election laws have barred opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners from contesting polls planned this year, state media reports said Wednesday.

Under the Political Parties Registration Law, published in state-run newspapers Wednesday, all prisoners are barred from joining political parties that register to contest a general election.

This condition effectively excludes Suu Kyi and 2,100 other political prisoners from running in the upcoming polls, which would be the first in Myanmar in 20 years, unless they are freed soon.

The law also excludes members of religious orders, members of insurgent groups “as defined by the state” and foreigners from joining political parties.

Suu Kyi is currently serving an 18-month house detention sentence, which is set to expire in October, unless it is extended by Myanmar’s ruling military junta.

At present, Suu Kyi still heads the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party despite her imprisonment, but under the new law, the NLD would need to drop her from its membership rolls to be allowed to contest the polls.

The law - signed by Myanmar’s junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe - also gives the NLD 60 days to register with the newly established Election Commission if it wishes to contest the election, whose date was yet to be set.

“Parties can continue their work in accordance with the law when they have received permission for the commission,” the law read. “They will be automatically invalidated if they do not reapply.”

The Election Commission is to consist of five members appointed by the State Peace and Development Council, as the ruling junta styles itself.

The new law confirmed fears that the junta intends to maintain an iron grip over the outcome of this year’s planned election.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Western governments have warned that the outcome of the election would only be deemed credible if Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are released beforehand and if amendments are made to the constitution to guarantee the future government’s independence from the military.

“Now the ball is in the court of the United Nations, United States and the international community, who have been repeatedly calling for the regime to make a inclusive, free and fair election,” said Aung Din, executive director of the pressure group US Campaign for Burma.

“I hope they will transform their words into a collective and effective action,” the Washington-based activist said.

The NLD, which won the country’s last general election in 1990 by a landslide but has been denied power for the past 20 years, has demanded in the past that the junta release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners before it contests the polls.

The NLD has also called for amendments to the current constitution as a condition for contesting the upcoming election.

Myanmar’s 2008 constitution effectively cements the military’s control over any elected government by means of the National Parliament, primarily an appointed body with the power of veto over all legislation.

The junta has insisted that the constitution is a pre-requisite to handing power to any civilian government.

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