Political parties seeking to contest elections due to be held in Burma later this year have been told they will not be able to march, chant or say anything during rallies that is judged to have the potential to damage the country’s image.
In a series of guidelines published in state-controlled media, it was also revealed that any party seeking to hold a gathering or rally outside of its own headquarters must seek permission from the authorities at least a week in advance.
The military junta that controls Burma claims elections it says will be held later this year will mark a crucial stepping-point towards full democracy. In preparation, a number of senior officers claim to have given up their military posts to lead a party contesting the elections. In truth, most independent observers believe the polls will be a sham and that they will merely act to further cement the position of the military.
All parties challenging for seats in the national parliament arerequired to have at least 1,000 members within 90 days of being granted permission to contest the polls. So far 33 parties have that permission, many of them supporters of the junta. Yet crucial to the view of most observers that the polls will have no credibility, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), will not be among them.
With its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi prevented from taking part because she is under house arrest and with a further 2,000 political prisoners still behind bars, the party in April voted not to participate. Not everyone within the NLD agreed with the party's decision and a breakaway group, called the National Democratic Force (NDF) and headed by a veteran politician, Dr Than Nyein, is seeking permission to contest the election – a move that has reportedly deeply disappointed Ms Suu Kyi. The NLD, which won a 1990 election by a landslide only for the result to be ignored by the military, has since been forced to disband.
According to the 14-point plan printed in several newspapers today, the NDF and other parties contesting the elections will have to strictly adhere to several regulations. Prohibited will be “giving talks and publishing and distributing publications with the intention of tarnishing the image of the state”, while parties will also have to avoid causing disturbances near government offices, , markets, schools, hospitals and religious buildings. The guidelines warned that the authorities will take appropriate steps to deal with those who breach the rules.
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