State television reported that a 17-member election commission had been appointed by the ruling junta to oversee "successful multi-party democratic elections in 2010". The new commission, headed by deputy chief justice Thein Soe, is expected to announce the date for the polls soon. Most observers believe they will be held in the fall.
In another statement, the government officially annulled the results of the last general elections in 1990. They were won by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), but the junta never acknowledged this outcome and did not allow her to rule. In Thursday's newspapers, the junta said the 1990 results had "automatically" been annulled as they were not "consistent" with the new law.
Under the new laws, nobody serving a prison term can be a member of a political party. As Suu Kyi is currently serving a prison sentence that has been commuted to house arrest, she is barred from the elections and her party might be forced to expel her. According to her lawyer and spokesman Nyan Win, who was allowed to meet her on Thursday, Suu Kyi has condemned the new law as "unjust" and directed against her person.
NLD can reopen offices
In contrast, the junta allowed the NLD to reopen its branch offices across the country. They were all shut down in 2003. Nyan Win said on Thursday that around 100 of the party offices had already reopened, and the other 200 were expected to follow suit soon. The NLD is still deliberating whether to participate in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, criticism of the junta continued to be voiced abroad. The Philippines became the first member of ASEAN to condemn the exclusion of Aung San Suu Kyi from the elections on Thursday. In the past, the 10-member ASEAN has often been criticized for being too lenient towards Myanmar, which is also a member.
The US also slammed the new electoral laws as a "mockery" of democracy, while UK-based human rights group Amnesty International once again urged the regime to release the more than 2,000 political prisoners in the country.
Editor: Anne Thomas