Suu Kyi banned from contesting Burmese elections

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The Independent Online

Laws drawn up by the Burmese junta will prohibit detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in a controversial election due to be held later this year. If her party wants to participate in the poll it may even have to formally expel her.

The so-called Political Parties Registration Law, published today in state-run newspapers in Burma, prohibits anyone convicted by a court from joining a party and participating in the polls. Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years either in jail or else under house arrest, was last summer convicted of violating the terms of her detention after an uninvited American swam across a lake to her house. In what was widely seen as a staged trial and conviction, her detention was extended until November and many analysts believe the junta will hold the election in October.

The Nobel Laureate’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is now faced with a major dilemma. If it wishes to contest the election and register with the authorities within 60 days, it is all but certain that Ms Suu Kyi will have to officially ousted, as a clause in the rules demands that parties expel members who are “not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party”. Many other senior members of the party currently being held in jail would also have to be expelled.

“We find some of the provisions in this law very unfair and completely unacceptable. We feel sure this law will not be conducive to national reconciliation in our country at all,” an NLD spokesman, Nyan Win, told Reuters. “It’s completely impossible for us.”

The NLD has not yet decided whether to participate in the poll, which most observers believe will simply cement the central role of the military within the Burmese state. It has pointed out that conditions for an election are unfair when up to 2,000 political prisoners remain detained in jail and has opposed a new constitution introduced in 2008 that laid out the guidelines for the vote.

The last democratic election in Burma was held in 1990. In that instance the NLD secured 392 of the 492 contested seats but the military authorities refused to accept the result and launched a new crackdown on political opponents and dissidents.

Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK, said the banning of Aung San Suu Kyi was the latest in a series of steps taken by the junta to ensure its political opponents stood no chance. The authorities recently introduced legislation that prevents any “owing allegiance” to a country other than Burma of becoming president. Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris, was a British academic and the couple had two sons.

“How many more signals are the generals going to have to have to send before the international community wakes up to the fact that these elections will be a sham,” said Mr Farmaner.

The announcement that Ms Suu Kyi, 64, will not be permitted to participate comes after a softening of the stance of some Western countries, chiefly the US, in regard to Burma. With the Obama administration having restarted senior bilateral meetings with the junta, some voices in Washington have even suggested it might be time to lift a series of sanctions against Burma.

Aung Din, a former political prisoner who now heads the US-based Campaign for Burma, said: “This is the regime's response to Ban Ki-moon and the international community, who have been expecting that the regime would hold the election inclusive, free and fair. I hope Ban Ki-moon stands strong and calls for the international community to not recognise this sham election.”