Myanmar junta to appoint electoral body to oversee polls

YANGON: Myanmar’s military junta will appoint the body that oversees the country’s first elections in two decades, state media said today as the regime gave the first details of new laws for this year’s polls.

The move adds to international concerns about the fairness of the elections, which critics say are a sham designed to legitimise the ruling generals’ grip on power while opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi languishes in detention.

The last elections in 1990 were won by Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party but the junta annulled the results and has kept her under house arrest for 14 of the intervening years.

The Myanmar government enacted five long-awaited laws on Monday ahead of the polls, which are expected in October or November although there is still no firm date. State-run newspapers today published the full two-page text of the first of the new laws, the “Union Election Commission Law”, signed by junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

The law will “form a union election commission to supervise the practising of the Union of Myanmar people’s rights to elect or stand for election as well as the political parties,” the text said.

But it said that the junta, officially known as the State Peace and Development Council, would itself appoint the commission, which will have at least five members.

All members must be over 50 and “shall be deemed by the SPDC to be an eminent person, to have integrity and experience, to be loyal to the state and its citizens and shall not be a member of a political party”. The commission would have the “final and conclusive” say on all electoral matters, it added. The commission would be responsible for designating constituencies, compiling voter lists and “supervising political parties to perform in accordance with the law”.

The body also has the power to postpone and abolish “elections of the constituencies where free and fair elections cannot be held due to natural disaster or due to the local security situation”, the law said.

“It obviously does not bode well for the credibility of the elections,” activist Debbie Stothard, a Bangkok-based activist and coordinator of the ALTSEAN-Burma (Myanmar) network, said of the electoral commission laws.

“It’s not a surprise — many people expect these elections to be stage-managed by the military regime. It’s an election run by the regime for the regime.” A Myanmar official said the date for this year’s polls was expected to be set by the election commission, not by the government.

“I think that the election commission will have to announce the election date as it is their duty to hold elections. We cannot say anything right now except to wait for the election commission,” the official said on condition of anonymity. Another official said political parties “will get about six months to lobby for elections after election laws come out”. The NLD has not yet said whether it will participate in this year’s promised elections, saying it will wait until it sees the full details of all the election laws.