Myanmar elections: New rules bar shouting or marching to rally political support

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Myanmar: No chanting to drum up political support

YANGON, Myanmar — Political parties seeking new members ahead of Myanmar’s historic elections were warned Wednesday they cannot chant, march or say anything during rallies that tarnish the image of the tightly ruled country.

The rules are part of a 14-point directive published by the Election Commission that governs how parties enlist new members. All parties contesting elections planned for later this year are required to have at least 1,000 members within 90 days of being granted registration.

The polls, which will be the first in two decades, have been dismissed by critics as a sham designed to cement nearly 50 years of military rule. The junta has not announced an election date.

So far, 33 new political parties have been approved by the Election Commission and five existing parties have reregistered to contest the polls. Global criticism has failed to win the freedom of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose now-defunct party overwhelmingly won the last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.

Under recently enacted election laws, Suu Kyi and other political prisoners — estimated at more than 2,000 — are effectively barred from taking part in the polls. Her National League for Democracy party has called the laws unfair and undemocratic and is boycotting the vote, which critics have dismissed as a sham designed to cement military rule. The party was disbanded after refusing to register for the elections by a May 6 deadline.

The directive, which was published in state-run media, says parties that want to hold gatherings outside their own headquarters must seek permission a week in advance from the Election Commission and then abide by several restrictions.

The directive cited “rules prohibiting the act of marching to the designated gathering point (and) holding flags or marching and chanting slogans in procession” before or after the meeting.

It also bars “giving talks and publishing and distributing publications with the intention of tarnishing the image of the state,” according to the Myanma Ahlin and other newspapers.

Parties must avoid causing disturbances near government offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals and religious buildings, the directive said, adding that local authorities will provide necessary security measures during any gatherings and in the event that any of the rules are violated.

Once parties have acquired full membership, separate rules will be announced to govern the campaigning process.

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