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NEWS UPDATES 10 March 2010

Myanmar: Junta’s election law ensures NLD leader is out of race

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A new election law unveiled by Myanmar's ruling military Wednesday bars pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running in upcoming elections and could force her own political party to expel her, reported the Associated Press.

The Political Parties Registration Law, published in official newspapers, excludes anyone convicted by a court of law from joining a political party and may push Suu Kyi out of her National League for Democracy.

Aung Thein, a lawyer who has defended activists in the country, called the law "absolutely undemocratic and unfair." And the head of an U.S.-based activist group described it as a slap in the face for the international community, which is calling for free and fair elections in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention, was convicted last August of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence. She was sentenced to a new term of house arrest that is to end this November.

The sentence was seen as a way to keep Suu Kyi locked up during the election campaign. Last month, the Supreme Court dismissed her latest appeal for freedom.

The registration law says that existing political parties have 60 days from Monday, when the law was promulgated, to register with an Election Committee whose members are to be appointed by the junta. The government currently recognises 10 parties.

Parties are also instructed to expel members who are "not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party," a clause that could force Suu Kyi's expulsion. Parties that don't register automatically cease to exist, the law says.

The law also bars members of religious orders and civil servants from joining political parties.

The date of the elections has not been announced, and Suu Kyi's party has not said whether it will contest the balloting.

The regime enacted five election-related laws on Monday, two of which have now been made public. Three more are to be unveiled in coming days.

The government announced in 2008 that elections will take place sometime in 2010. The last elections in 1990 were won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi's party, but the military refused to hand over power.

Her party says the new constitution of 2008 is unfair and gives the military controlling say in government.

Suu Kyi's lawyer and a senior party member, Nyan Win, said the new law also bars people who have lodged an appeal against a conviction, which he said "clearly refers" to Suu Kyi. He declined to comment further, saying party members need to discuss the legislation first.

"It is very unfair that a party member serving a prison term for his or her political convictions has to be expelled from the party. This clause amounts to interfering in party internal affairs," said Aung Thein, the lawyer. He said the provision would exclude many pro-democracy individuals who have been imprisoned for their beliefs.

Human rights groups say the junta has jailed about 2,100 political prisoners.

It was widely assumed that Suu Kyi would be shut out since a provision in the constitution bars anyone with foreign ties from taking part in elections. Suu Kyi's now-deceased husband was British, her two sons have British citizenship, and she has been described by the junta as enjoying special links with Britain.

Aung Din, who heads the Washington D.C.-based lobby group U.S. Campaign for Burma, noted that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said he had urged Myanmar to release laws governing the elections as soon as possible.

"This is the regime's response to Ban Ki-moon and the international community, who have been expecting that the regime would hold the election inclusive, free and fair," Aung Din said.

"I hope Ban Ki-moon stands strong and calls for the international community to not recognise this sham election," Aung Din said.


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