Burma's military government has unveiled a new national election law that disqualifies leading opposition figures from running for office, strengthening the regime's hold on power under the guise of democratic process. This is also reflected in the government's decision to move ahead with election plans without engaging in substantive dialogue with opposition or ethnic minority leaders, a move that concerns the United States greatly.
The Political Parties Registration Law, announced in state-run newspapers March 10, gives parties 60 days to declare their intent to participate in the upcoming national election, but excludes religious and ceasefire groups. It also prevents those convicted by a court from membership in a political party. That would bar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running in the upcoming national elections or even participating in her own party. Many other activists convicted for their political activities would be proscribed too.
While no date has been set yet for the election – the first since 1990 -- the military government touts it as a step toward democracy, begun with a controversial constitution adopted in 2008. The United States, however, believes the party registration law ensures the elections will have no credibility.
To gain that, Burma's leaders should open up the process, not restrict it by barring candidates with whom it disagrees. It should begin a genuine political dialogue with all stakeholders and allow all opposition voices the chance to fully take part in Burma’s political process as a first step toward national reconciliation.