Myanmar announces enactment of long-awaited election laws to pave way for historic polls

Monday, March 8, 2010

Myanmar enacts election laws, paving way for polls

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar announced the enactment of long awaited laws on Monday that set the stage for the country’s first election in 20 years to be held sometime this year.

State radio and television said the new laws would be published in state newspapers beginning Tuesday; it gave no details about them. The laws will set out the mechanisms and rules for the election and campaigning, and the conditions under which parties may participate.

Myanmar’s military government announced in early 2008 that the election would take place in 2010, but has not yet set any date for it. A 1990 election was won by the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military refused to hand over power.

The party of Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest until November, has not yet committed itself to taking part in the polls because it claims the new constitution of 2008 is unfair. It has clauses that would ensure that the military retains a controlling say in government and bars Suu Kyi from holding office.

The party has said the election laws will help it determine whether it will participate.

A spokesman for the National League for Democracy said Monday that he could not yet comment on the laws.

“We don’t know what’s in the laws. I can at least say that if elections are held this year, it won’t be fair because political parties are not given enough time,” said Nyan Win.

“Political parties need sufficient time for registration and for campaigning. Now that the laws have been enacted, it is more urgent for the party leaders to have a meeting as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has requested in her letter in November,” Nyan Win said, referring to a letter from Suu Kyi to junta chief senior Gen. Than Shwe.

Suu Kyi has consistently called for a dialogue between the government and the opposition but has received no commitment from the military regime.

The brief announcement on state television said the five laws cover an Election Commission; the polls for the Pyithu Hluttaw, or House of Representatives; the polls for the Amyotha Hluttaw, or House of Nationalities, the other house of parliament; the polls for Region and State parliaments; and the Political Parties Registration Law.

The national and regional legislatures will all include military personnel nominated by their commander in chief.

The 440-member House of Representatives will have 330 elected civilians and 110 military representatives; while the 224-member House of Nationalities will seat 168 elected candidates and 56 nominated by the military chief.

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. The Supreme Court last month dismissed her latest appeal for freedom. She was convicted last August of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home, and sentenced to a term of house arrest to end this November.

The sentence was seen as a ploy to effectively keep Suu Kyi locked up during any election campaign.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment that Suu Kyi’s appeal was rejected, adding that the legitimacy of the elections rests on the freedom of political prisoners.

“Most importantly, all the political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released as soon as possible, so that all of them can take part in elections,” Ban said.

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