Leading article: Burma's election that is no election

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The western media tend to have a Pavlovian response to the word "election", and now that Burma has announced that its first general election for 20 years will be held on 7 November, journalists masquerading as tourists will doubtless soon be hacking through the country's highways and byways, asking about voter preferences, profiling party leaders and ruminating on the outcome.

So it needs to be spelt out in the most unequivocal terms that Burma's coming election is a sham and a fake. The party that won a landslide victory at the last election in 1990, the National League for Democracy, was never allowed to take power. It has been persecuted to the point of extermination ever since, and was deliberately marginalised this time around by a ruling that parties whose membership included political prisoners would not be allowed to register. This effectively required the party to expel its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and more than 400 of its members who are in prison. Quite rightly, the party chose to snub the entire process.

Meanwhile, the 40 parties that have decided to participate find themselves with little room to manoeuvre, their campaign literature tightly censored, their membership lists scrutinised by the police, and campaign funds hogged by the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which grew out of the civilian militia blamed for a murderous attack on Suu Kyi and her supporters in 2003. Those who succeed in clambering through the regime's hoops and gaining election will find 25 per cent of the seats reserved for the military.

We need to heed the US Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, who yesterday called on President Obama to "renew his support" for Aung San Suu Kyi and ensure the world is "not tempted to recognise this mockery of the democratic process". If Mr Obama, whose policy of engagement with the regime has gone precisely nowhere, fails to do so, David Cameron should not hesitate to give him his cue.

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