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March 29, 2009

Myanmar junta boss focuses on 2010 polls at annual parade

Myanmar's junta chief set some ground rules Friday for elections scheduled for 2010, calling on political parties to avoid smear campaigns and to remember it will take awhile to establish a "mature" democracy.

Senior Gen Than Shwe rarely says anything in public except at the annual Armed Forces Day, a holiday celebrated Friday to mark the military's might with a customary ostentatious display of troops and equipment, reported the Associated Press.

As is tradition, the public was not allowed to attend the tightly guarded event at a massive parade ground in Naypyitaw, the remote administrative capital the junta moved its government offices to in 2005.

After reviewing more than 13,000 troops from inside a moving convertible, Than Shwe gave a 17-minute speech that focused on elections scheduled for 2010 — the first polls in almost two decades.

The elections are the last stage of the junta's so-called "roadmap to democracy," a process critics have called a sham designed to cement the military's four-decade grip on power.

The 76-year-old Than Shwe said political parties that contest the elections should "refrain from inciting unrest, avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties."

Parties that carry out "mature party organising work will receive the blessing of the government," he told the audience, which included military leaders, government ministers and reporters. Foreign media were denied visas to cover the event.

But he added the country should not expect a "well-established democracy" overnight.

A precise election date has not been set and it is not yet known who will contest the polls. Before a political party can participate it must meet the standards of a "political parties registration law," which has not yet been announced.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.

The current junta took power in 1988 after violently crushing a pro-democracy uprising. Two years later it refused to hand over power when Aung San Suu Kyi's political party won a landslide election victory.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

As part of its roadmap, the junta drafted a new constitution that enshrines the military's leading role in politics. One of the provisions of the constitution effectively bars Suu Kyi from holding any kind of political office in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy did not participate in the drafting process and says last year's constitutional referendum — which adopted the charter by 92 percent — was engineered by the junta.

Armed Forces Day is held every March 27 to commemorate the day in 1945 when the Myanmar army rose up against Japanese occupation forces.


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