Burma’s military-backed government will allow Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party to stand for upcoming by-elections, state media announced Tuesday, in a move one member called a “step forward” for political freedom in the country.
The announcement marks a return of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to Burma’s political arena, which the party boycotted last year ahead of November elections widely dismissed as a sham by rights groups and the international community.
Burma’s election commission accepted the NLD's application to register, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Tuesday. The registration will be formalized next week.
U Tin Oo, vice chairman of the NLD, welcomed the approval.
"This is an opening of the door to move one step forward—based on an agreement jointly announced by Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein,” he said.
“I hope this will move us further towards freedom, democracy and human rights for the people."
Senior NLD official Win Tin said the dynamics of the opposition party had changed in the year since Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power from Burma’s former military junta and would be reflected in the party’s internal structure ahead of the upcoming polls.
"On registration, only six from the NLD’s old leadership will hold leading roles for the party. The rest [of the leadership] will be chosen from four groups within the party—ethnic minorities, women, students, and the youth generation,” he said.
“During the election race, our party will also be represented in this way."
A date for the by-elections, which will contest vacant parliamentary seats, has not yet been set.
The NLD's 106-member Central Executive Committee voted unanimously in November to re-register the party, which was "dissolved" by the then military junta for boycotting last year's general elections.
The opposition party's move came after the Burmese parliament amended electoral laws paving the way for its official return to politics.
NLD officials had deliberated over re-registering the party because the government has not yet released all political prisoners or forged peace with ethnic armed groups.
The NLD's allied ethnic parties, such as the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the Arakan League for Democracy, the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), and the Zomi National Congress, said last month that they will wait until ethnic leaders are released before registering.
Aung San Suu Kyi also said last month that she wants her party to contest all the 48 seats up for grabs in the by-elections by the end of the year but did not indicate whether she herself would vie for membership in parliament.
The NLD won the 1990 general elections by a landslide, but the military junta refused to cede power and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under years of house arrest. She was released only after the November elections.
Western nations which maintain economic sanctions against Burma’s government, including the U.S. and the European Union, have said they are encouraged by the reforms that Thein Sein has introduced since taking power in March and have welcomed the NLD's decision to take part in elections.
Since taking power from Burma’s former military junta, Thein Sein’s government has enacted a series of reforms, including easing media controls, legalizing labor unions, and suspending a controversial dam project backed by China.
Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama lauded changes introduced by his Burmese counterpart Thein Sein since taking power in March as "the most important steps toward reform in Burma that we've seen in years."
The EU has said it is reviewing its policy towards Burma.
But critics caution that more reform is needed, including the release of more political prisoners and reconciliation with the country’s armed ethnic minorities, as well as the establishment of an independent judiciary in Burma.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.