Myanmar lays down stringent campaign rules for November election

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Myanmar lays down tough rules for upcoming polls

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar published Thursday stringent rules for November’s general election that demand candidates seek permission a week in advance to campaign, do not make speeches that “tarnish” the ruling military or shout slogans at processions.

The disbanded party of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, dissolved for declining to register with the authorities, meanwhile officially declared its boycott of the upcoming polls.

The 13-point list of campaigning regulations decreed by the state Election Commission would guarantee a “free and fair” vote, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper which published the rules a week after the Nov. 7 election date was set.

The vote will be the first in impoverished Myanmar in two decades. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won the last election in 1990 but was barred from taking power, say the junta unfairly imposed rules for this year’s vote that restrict campaigning and bar the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and other political prisoners from participating.

The junta has billed the election is as the key transitional step from five decades of military rule to civilian government. Critics say a military-initiated constitution, along with repression of the opposition, ensures the army will continue to hold commanding influence even after the polls.

Many Western governments and human right groups agree that the process is unfair and seek changes to ensure free and fair polls, including the release of Suu Kyi — who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years — and other prisoners.

According to the regulations, candidates must seek permission to campaign a week in advance from the local Election Commission, providing details such as place of assembly, date, time and duration. Holding flags and shouting slogans in processions is forbidden, as is making speeches or distributing publications that “tarnish the image” of the military and any “activities that can harm security.”

Candidates found in violation of the regulations face a fine and a jail term of one year.

It was still unclear when the official campaign period begins. The Election Commission will finish its scrutiny of candidates by Sept. 10.

The NLD was officially disbanded earlier this year after it declined to register for the vote, though its leaders made clear they are keeping the organization together to continue its struggle for democracy. Party vice chairman Tin Oo on Thursday spelled out why the party was boycotting the election.

“We decided to officially boycott the election because we believe that the 2008 constitution and the electoral laws do not guarantee democracy and human rights in the country,” said Tin Oo, contacted by phone after an emergency meeting of party leaders at his house.

“We have no interest in the election and we want to give a clear message to the voters that they have the right not to vote in the upcoming elections,” he said.

There are no penalties for not voting.

Taken together, the NLD positions constitute a strong but apparently legal challenge to the legitimacy of the polls, especially in the absence of any unified opposition to the junta.

Separately, the New Light of Myanmar reported an ethnic Karen group allied to the government — the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association — agreed to transform its guerrilla fighters into the Border Guard Forces.

Integrating ethnic rebel groups into government-supervised border forces is a key part of the government’s plans to pacify border areas, which are dominated by minority groups that have long striven for autonomy, sometimes though armed struggle.

The junta in the 1990s reached cease-fire agreements with many, but compromised by allowing them to keep their arms. Five of the groups have now agreed to integrate themselves into the national border force, but others, such as the Kachin Independence Army and the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army, are still resisting the transformation of their militias.

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