Myanmar’s latest law bars democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from voting in elections

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Law bars Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi from voting

YANGON, Myanmar — Not only is Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi barred from running in upcoming elections, but she will not be allowed to vote — and her opposition party’s landslide win in the last polls has been formally invalidated, according to laws published Thursday.

Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy, condemned the latest laws, but vowed to survive.

“They have been slowly trying to decimate the party and now they are doing it with utmost force. But the NLD will never collapse,” said the party’s deputy chairman, Tin Oo.

The date for the election has not yet been announced. It will be the first poll since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory. The junta ignored the results of that vote and has kept Suu Kyi jailed or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The junta enacted five election-related laws Monday that set out the rules for the next polls. So far, it has made four of the laws public — two of which were unveiled Thursday and pertain to the election of candidates to parliament.

Also Thursday, the junta announced the makeup of the Election Commission, which will oversee the polls and be headed by a former high-ranking army officer.

Like the election laws announced earlier in the week, the latest included more provisions that ban Suu Kyi from the political scene.

They stipulate that anyone convicted of a crime — as Suu Kyi was in August for the first time — is barred from running or voting in the elections for the upper and lower houses.

The two laws also formally invalidated the 1990 elections results, saying the 1989 election law under which those polls were held was repealed by the new legislation.

It comes as yet another blow to the NLD, which has been demanding the results be recognized for the last two decades.

An election law announced Wednesday prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from being a member of a political party, making Suu Kyi ineligible to become a candidate in the elections — or even a member of the party she co-founded and heads.

One of the strongest reactions came from the Philippines, a partner with Myanmar in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose members rarely voice criticism of each other.

“Unless they release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her and her party to participate in elections, it’s a complete farce and therefore contrary to their roadmap to democracy,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told The Associated Press.

The United States and human rights groups warned that the junta was running out of chances to make the elections appear credible.

“This is a step in the wrong direction,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington. “The political party registration law makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.”

One-fourth of the parliament will be appointed by the military. The latest laws said a newly created 440-member House of Representatives will have 330 elected civilians and 110 military representatives. A 224-member House of Nationalities will have 168 elected candidates and 56 nominated by the military chief.

Anyone disrupting the voting can be imprisoned for a year, the law says.

“The new law’s assault on opposition parties is sadly predictable,” Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “It continues the sham political process that is aimed at creating the appearance of civilian rule with a military spine.”

State television and radio on Thursday announced that the Election Commission will be made up of 17 members and chaired by deputy chief justice Thein Soe, a former high ranking army officer and previous head of the military court system. Other members included retired civil servants, judges and lawyers — all chosen by the junta.

In August, Suu Kyi was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence, and was sentenced to 18 more months of detention. The sentence was interpreted as a way of keeping her locked up during the election since it came just as her previous house arrest term was about to expire.

On Wednesday evening, authorities began to reopen several NLD offices in Yangon by removing red wax that had been sealed over their locks since 2003 to restrict party activities, party spokesman Nyan Win said.

“Maybe they want to show some flexibility,” said Nyan Win, noting that the move seemed tied to another provision of the election laws that says existing political parties have 60 days from Monday to register. The government currently recognizes 10 parties, including the NLD.

The date of the elections has not been announced, and Suu Kyi’s party has not said whether it will take part.

Associated Press Writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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