Myanmar opposition party to boycott elections
YANGON: The party of Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi decided Monday to boycott the military-ruled country's first election in two decades after the Nobel laureate blasted new electoral rules as "undemocratic."
The main opposition National League for Democracy's refusal to participate would undermine the polls' credibility in the eyes of foreign governments, which have urged the diplomatically isolated junta to ensure all groups take part in the elections.
The military, which has run Myanmar since 1962, has touted this year's elections as part of a "roadmap to democracy," but a number of rules would prevent Suu Kyi herself from participating. The pro-democracy icon has spent 14 of the last 20 years in jail or under house arrest.
Suu Kyi's party won the last election held in Myanmar in 1990 by a landslide but was barred by the military from taking power.
On Monday, her party's spokesman, Nyan Win, announced after a daylong meeting that all 113 delegates present had agreed that the party should not register for the elections.
Cheering could be heard from the delegates as they concluded their meeting.
Nyan Win said the central committee members decided not to register because — as noted in a message sent to them by Suu Kyi — the electoral laws enacted by the junta "are unfair and unjust."
Her message also called stipulations in the law "undemocratic."
Nyan Win did not elaborate, but the party had previously objected to a provision of the party registration law that requires parties to expel members who have criminal convictions, or face deregistration.
Because Suu Kyi was convicted last year of allowing an unregistered guest to stay at her home, the provision would appear not to allow her to be a member of the National League for Democracy, which she helped found.
Suu Kyi is still general-secretary of the party and its most dominant figure.
The new election laws require political parties to register before the first week in May. Parties that do not register will not be able to participate in this year's election and will cease to exist, under rules enacted this month by the military government that also bar Suu Kyi from participating in the polls.
No date has been set for the polls, which critics deride as a sham designed to cement the power of the military.
Even before the official decision, party spokesman Nyan Win indicated the party would decide not to register. Asked if that would marginalize the party, he said, "We will continue to exist politically by not registering. If we register, we will only have a name void of all political essence."
"We will survive as long as we have public support," Nyan Win said.
Security was heightened, with plainclothes police and pro-government security guards stationed around the party's compound as the delegates met Monday in Yangon.
"This meeting is a life-or-death issue. If we don't register, we will not have a party and we will be without legs and limbs," said Win Tin, a veteran party member and one of Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoners, having spent 19 years behind bars before his release in 2008.
He said the journey ahead would be difficult if the party chooses to opt out of elections but that its members could still maintain their democratic principles and spirit.
Last week, Suu Kyi was quoted by her lawyer as saying she opposed registering her party. But she stressed she would let the party decide for itself.
Suu Kyi is under house arrest and the new election laws effectively bar her both from running and voting.