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A Lost Opportunity In Burma


Volunteers in Shan ethnic traditional costume enroll to get ballots in a demonstration on voting for the upcoming general election.

Lack of freedoms of expression, assembly and association make the country's electoral process "deeply flawed."

A new United Nations report confirms what many in the international community have been saying for months since the military government of Burma announced it would hold the first parliamentary elections there in 20 years. Tomas Quintana, U.N. human rights rapporteur on Burma, told the UN General Assembly on October 20 that the lack of freedoms of expression, assembly and association make the country's electoral process "deeply flawed."

Genuine elections call for broad participation, but Burma's electoral process has been marked by a distinct lack of inclusiveness. Many opposition groups and ethnic minorities won't be allowed to participate, and those candidates permitted to take part must swear allegiance to the 2008 constitution, which guarantees the military one quarter of the seats in parliament, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

The regime also continues to hold thousands of political prisoners, a grim warning against the questioning of authority. Outside election observers and members of the foreign press are also barred from entering the country to study and report on the election.

News that Burma was essentially closing its borders to outsiders before the election is not surprising, given the regime's preparations for the vote under the constitution and a political registration law imposed earlier this year. Still, it is disappointing that Burma's leaders are not taking advantage of the opportunity to have a more open election and pursuing a dialogue within civil society in Burma, one that will help build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens.

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