Burma's leading opposition party says it won't take part in national elections to be held sometime this year.
The National League for Democracy's decision appears to have been forced on it by unfair and repressive new election laws announced March 10, which would have severely hampered its effectiveness by barring many of its members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, from running for office or even membership. Nevertheless, if there was any chance that the polling would be inclusive, that ended when the NLD, long the mainstay of Burma's democracy movement, chose not to participate under rules it considers unfair.
While no date has been set yet for the election, the first since 1990, the government touts it as a step toward democracy, begun with a controversial constitution adopted 2 years ago. Under military rule for almost 50 years, Burma has some of the tightest restrictions on free speech and political activity in the world. The generals ruling the country see the election as a way to enhance their credibility at home and deflect criticism on their policies from the international community.
To accomplish that, Burma's leaders should open up the political process. Instead, they restricted it with the new Political Parties Registration law and the constitution, which guarantees 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to the military even before the voting. While there have been reports that some smaller opposition parties may take part in the election, a chance to conduct a broad and serious dialogue with leading activists and various ethnic groups hoping for a say in Burma's future will likely now be lost.