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Burma Regime Misses Another Chance

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with youths at the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office in Yangon February 8, 2011.

Burma's highest court has upheld a decision to dissolve the country's leading opposition political party.

Burma's highest court has upheld a decision to dissolve the country's leading opposition political party, which was outlawed last year for failing to register according to conditions set down by Burma's ruling military regime. The decision leaves Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of other pro-democracy activists outside formal politics in Burma just as the regime claims to be moving the nation to civilian rule.

The high court took little time to decide against the National League for Democracy's appeal of lower court rulings that it be banned. A lawyer representing the NLD said that only the country's chief justice could now change the ruling, and he saw little likelihood of that happening. As a political force, however, the NLD will continue in the hearts and minds of the people.

The NLD won a resounding victory in Burma's last elections in 1990, but was kept from power by the military junta. As the nation prepared for new elections in November, the regime laid down restrictive rules on membership and political activities for parties wishing to offer candidates. The NLD refused to take part, calling the registration rules unfair and undemocratic. In return, it was barred from the race and declared illegal.

As the high court was ruling, the new parliament elected in November was being seated in a show of a supposed transition to democracy. Not only did the military leadership limit the ability of opposition candidates to campaign for elected seats, it guaranteed itself a strong hand in the next government with a large number of designated military appointees and full support for the government’s proxy party.

The United States is disappointed in the high court's decision to uphold the banning of the NLD. Authorizing recognition of that and other democratic and ethnic opposition parties would have been a good step to enter into a genuine and inclusive dialogue on the nation's future. Instead, the decision was another lost opportunity for bringing Burma much needed and fundamental change and progress toward reconciliation.