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Myanmar unveils new election laws

March 9, 2010

The military junta of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, unveiled the first details of new election laws on Tuesday.

Sen. Gen. Than Shwe, the leader of Myanmar's junta
Sen. Gen. Than Shwe, the leader of Myanmar's juntaImage: AP

According to the state-run newspapers, the regime enacted five laws on Monday to pave the way for the polls that are planned for later this year. However, only information about the law concerning the new election commission has been publicly disclosed.

The new rules stipulate that the upcoming elections in Myanmar will be overseen by a five-member election commission. All of the commission members must be at least 50 years old, they say. They must all be "eminent people with a good reputation" and cannot be members of a political party.

The new law states that the election commission will have the power to cancel elections in places where voting is hampered by a natural disaster or by the local security situation. The election commission's decisions will be final, says the junta.

Lack of credibility

Many observers fear that the elections in the military-ruled country will lack further credibility because of the fact that the government will appoint the election commission.

However, Derek Tonkin, a former British diplomat and the chairman of Network Myanmar in UK could see no other alternative. "Of course, in any other country, election commissions are appointed by parliament under an Act of Parliament and the government is not responsible," he said.

"In Myanmar at the present time, it is not clear how else the election commission could be appointed other than by the military regime because there is no political registration law so the parties cannot appoint them and there is no parliament in existence yet."

Tonkin adds that although the elections in Myanmar are supposed to mark the transition from over 40 years of military rule to democracy, one should not expect change to happen overnight.

Doubts that the elections will be free and fair

For Marco Bünte, an expert from the German Institute of Global and Area studies, says there is some way to go. "It is good that the country will have an elected government but I am not that optimistic these elections will be free and fair.

"The referendum two years ago made clear that the military government is trying to manipulate the whole process and I fear that this might also be the case in these elections that the military regime government might manipulate them."

Critics are also worried about the fact that political leaders in Myanmar lack freedom. They have also voiced their concern that the country’s over 2,000 political prisoners, who include Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be able to take part in the polls.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for over 14 of the past 20 years
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for over 14 of the past 20 yearsImage: AP

Will National League for Democracy participate?

The last elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. They were won by Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) but the junta never recognized the results.

So far, the NLD has not confirmed whether it will take part in this year's polls. As Zin Linn, one of the leaders of the Burmese community in exile in Thailand, explained, the party doesn’t think it has enough time to prepare.

"Daw Aung San Suu kyi says this election should not be held this year. According to the 1990 example, the election laws were released one year ahead of time. At that time, the opposition was also criticized because one year was not enough to form a party and organize."

The final decision on whether to participate will be made once all the details on the election laws have been released, some NLD members have said. The election laws include one on registering political parties, which will give some indication on how long the campaign period could last and effectively give a time frame for the polls.

Until now the junta has insisted the elections will take place this year.

Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Anne Thomas

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