Leading article: Burma's sham elections

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For those harbouring any hopes that the military regime in Burma was moving towards some kind of real democracy, this week's announcement of the laws for the forthcoming elections must have come as a rude shock. Under the new rules, no one who is a member of religious order or anyone with a criminal conviction can stand.

In other words out goes any chance of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – still under house arrest – or any member of the democracy parties now languishing in prison on political charges or any monk, whether they have been involved in past demonstrations or not, from taking part.

And if that was not clear enough, the Burmese junta yesterday introduced a law annulling the election of 1990 which Ms Suu Kyi overwhelmingly won and announced a 17-member election commission to oversee the polls headed by a former military officer and stuffed with government cronies.

Little wonder that a US official has declared the laws, setting out the principles of an election whose date has still to be announced, a mockery of the democratic process. The clampdown must be particularly galling to the US administration, which has bent over backwards to try and encourage dialogue with the regime and, indeed, for Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who had been let out to meet some members of the regime and had made encouraging noises about the future.

The simple reality, however, is that this regime, like any other authoritarian ruler, is unwilling to give up power voluntarily. It will make gestures to get the international community, and Burma's chief backers in Beijing, off their backs by holding elections and allowing some participation by the National League for Democracy. But it won't permit anything that truly threatens its own position.

Which leaves the rest of the world in a quandary as to how to react. Sanctions haven't worked. Some sort of dialogue is probably better than total isolation. But what the UN and the international commun ty must not do is to accept these elections as anything other than what they are, namely a total sham.