Burma Election Announced

Burma’s military junta sets the election six days before the key opposition leader's release.

burma election commission A delivery man walks past an Election Commission office in downtown Rangoon (Yangon) on August 13, 2010.

BANGKOK—Burma’s ruling military junta has announced November 7 as the date of its national election amid predictions that the vote will be a farce.

The polls will be the first since 1990, when National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide vote but was barred from taking power by the military.

“It seems they are trying to hold the election just before the release of Daw Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi]."

"In doing so, her release can have no effect on the election in which mostly the USDP is sure to win,” said an opposition coalition member, referring to the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, 65, is due to be released from house arrest on November 13, about a week after the election.

Her National League for Democracy party, which was declared illegal and disbanded by the ruling government in May, had planned to boycott the elections.

But other opposition groups that plan to participate in the elections are concerned that deadlines give them just over two weeks to register and raise funds.

In addition, the junta has placed strict limits on campaigning and any criticism that "tarnishes the nation's image."

Tight timing

The Election Commission’s announcement, made by official TV and radio broadcasts Friday morning, said that candidate lists must be submitted by the end of the month and that fees of U.S. $500 per candidate would be required to register.

“We had already figured it would be October, November, or December. What is surprising though is that we have to give the list of nominees before the end of month.”

“That’s a real headache and time is too short. We have to organize, choose nominees – It’s not an easy job,” said Than Nyein, chairperson of the National Democratic Front (NDF).

The NDF, a breakaway party from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, is a frontrunner among the opposition groups.

“To wind up this job on a national scale within two weeks, including the fees of $500 per person, is an impossible task. Not every party member can afford this kind of money,” he said.

Another opposition group, the Union Democratic Party, expressed similar concerns.

“I see it as their doing everything fast for their advantage. Just from the fee issue and the time that they are allowing, this shows us there is no fairness at all,” said the new chairman U Thein Htay.

The party’s former chairman resigned last week to protest the election and the party remains undecided over whether or not it will participate.

Third force

The Democracy Party of Myanmar, considered the "third force" in the ballot, expressed the same concerns.

“We assumed that time would be given [after the announcement] for us to nominate representatives but now it’s only from the 16th to the 31st of this month, which is a bit short. We face difficulties on that,” said its chairman U Thu Wai.

“Before, when the election date was not known, we were not sure whether the election would even take place. But now with the announcement we are sure of the fact that it’s on, and we welcome it,” he said. 

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged the junta to release political prisoners ahead of the elections.

But when Ban traveled to Burma in mid-2009, the junta rejected his proposals for free and fair elections as well as his request to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

A quarter of the seats in the new parliament are reserved for active members of the military. A number of former military officers are also running, including ministers who recently quit their posts in order to be eligible.

Burma’s military has ruled the country, which it calls Myanmar, without interruption since 1962.

The United States and European nations have dismissed the election as "undemocratic."

Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Nyein Shwe. Written for the Web in English by Rachel Vandenbrink. 


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