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NEWS UPDATES 29 June 2010

Ethnic voices not heard in Burma elections

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Elections slated for later this year in Burma (Myanmar) seem increasingly unlikely to empower the country's various ethnic minority groups, which combined account for more than 30 percent of the population, the Asia Times reports.

While the ruling generals have touted the inclusiveness of their tightly controlled democratic transition, critics say the new constitution ignores ethnic demands for federalism while junta-drafted election laws prohibit the participation of the largest ethnic parties, some of which are attached to armed insurgent groups who for decades have fought for greater autonomy.

The ruling junta has yet to announce a date for the elections, but many observers believe they will he held sometime in October. They will be the first polls held in Myanmar since 1990, when the opposition led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) swept to victory against military-sponsored parties, only to see the results annulled by the military before they could take power.

The generals have made clear their intention to hold new polls and that the participation of the NLD and ethnic ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups is not essential to their credibility. The NLD announced on March 29 that it would not re-register under the new election laws, which it considered unfair because of regulations that bar Aung San Suu Kyi, the party's detained leader, from contesting the polls.

A number of NLD party leaders and other members have argued that non-participation plays into the regime's hands by not providing an alternative to the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP).

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