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As speculation mounts over the date for elections planned in Burma later this year, many continue to wonder if there is any chance the balloting can be at all credible.
The timing has not been announced officially. Under the current military rule, there is no legislative branch in Burma. Parliamentarians elected in the 1990 election, the majority of whom come from the opposition National League for Democracy, or NLD, have never been permitted to take their seats.
Burma’s lack of a parliament would change with a 2-chamber legislature to be created under a controversial constitution approved in 2008. Change comes hard in Burma, however. At least a quarter of the parliamentarians are to be appointed members of the active-duty military. There are other restrictive provisions, as well, clearly aimed at keeping opposition figures out of office. Former prisoners may not be candidates nor may people who were or are married to non-Burmese. Much of Burma’s opposition leadership remains in detention as the regime continues to hold 2,100 political prisoners.
These restrictions alone appear to be designed to keep NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running and taking a political leadership role like the one she was denied after elections in 1990. Even beyond the constitutional restrictions, military leaders appear so concerned of any role she might play in the political process that in August she was convicted on spurious charges and sentenced to 18 months house arrest.
Keeping Aung San Suu Kyi sidelined without the ability to engage in dialogue casts even more doubt that the national elections this year can be at all credible. As the United States continues to urge Burmese authorities to create the conditions necessary for credible elections, it will continue to press for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate and unconditional release, along with all other prisoners of conscience there