Opposition to Boycott Myanmar Vote


BANGKOK – After months of internal debate, members of the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-detained pro-democracy leader, defied Myanmar’s junta by announcing Monday that they would boycott the country’s first elections in two decades.

The move raises questions about both the future of the Burmese opposition and the credibility of the vote.

According to election laws the junta released earlier this month, the decision means that the party that has served as the mainstay of the country’s democratic movement for two decades, the National League for Democracy, will be automatically dissolved. Western governments, including the United States and Britain, had said that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s participation and that of her party were prerequisites for legitimate elections.

On Monday, U Win Tin, a founding member and strategist for the party, said that more than 100 delegates were unanimous in their decision. “We will ask the people around us not to vote in the election: Please boycott,” he said in a telephone interview. He said that the party would try to continue political activities after it is disbanded. “We will work for the people,” he said.

The party had been split over whether to participate in the elections, forced to choose between participation that would undercut its principles and a boycott that would dissolve it. Last week, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi said through a spokesman that she viewed the election process as ‘unjust’ and that she felt that the party should not take part.

“They made a decision to maintain their dignity,” said Win Min, a lecturer in contemporary Burmese politics at Payap University in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. “They wanted to keep Aung San Suu Kyi as their leader. On the other hand, what is their alternative after this?”

Mr. Win Min said the National League for Democracy would likely be disbanded by May 6, a deadline set in the election laws. The party’s assets, including offices, might be seized. “Some members may be planning to set up a new party,” Mr. Win Min said.

The ruling generals portray the vote as part of a ‘roadmap’ to democracy after 48 years of military rule, while diplomats and exile groups view it as window-dressing for the junta’s continued hold on power.

But some inside Myanmar say they believe the elections offer at least a modest positive step.

In recent months the military government has announced nascent liberalization measures that they see as possibly the beginning of a decentralization of power. The measures include issuing permits for private hospitals and schools and allowing private-sector management of the rice industry.
But the counterpoint to these economic measures is the consistently hard line that the military has taken with the political force it considers its archenemy, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, 64, and her followers. Her party won a landslide victory in 1990, a result that was ignored by the ruling generals and officially nullified just this month.

The party has been weakened by two decades of harassment, intimidation and imprisonment of many of its members, including Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Win Tin. The party’s leaders are aging – Mr. Win Tin is 81 – and the membership has dwindled.

Among many restrictive measures in the election law, criminal convictions bar candidacy. This includes Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Win Tin among the estimated 2,100 political prisoners in the country, many of whom were leaders of protest movements in 1988 and 2007 and form the core of the country’s democracy movement.

Taking part in a new election would also have been a signal to people in Myanmar that the National League for Democracy had agreed to forgo its 1990 victory, Mr. Win Tin said. “We would have to give up all of our political convictions,” he said.

The party also wanted to send a signal to armed ethnic groups in the northern reaches of the country that the election was illegitimate. The junta is demanding that the ethnic groups disarm.

“A sort of civil war will flare up very soon,” Mr. Win Tin predicted.

Mr. Win Tin urged countries in Asia and the West to threaten to withhold aid to the junta. “Please put more pressure on the government,” he said. “That is my message.”

Mr. Win Tin, who wrote poetry during his nearly two decades in prison, used a concoction of water and red dust from the bricks of his cell to write his verses. He was denied pen and paper in the infamously brutal prison system.

Today, he said he is followed by military intelligence whenever he leaves the house. Agents were outside on motorcycle as he spoke to this reporter, he said.

“For me it’s as if I were still in prison,” he said. “I feel like the whole country is imprisoned,” he said.

Suu Kyi’s NLD party to boycott Burma election


Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says it will not take part in the country’s first polls in two decades.

An NLD spokesman said the party had decided not to register because of “unjust” electoral laws.

The laws recently announced by the junta required the NLD to expel its detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because she has a criminal record.

Its refusal to register means the NLD will no longer be legally recognised.

No date has been set for the elections, but the military has pledged to hold them this year.
The NLD won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey, says the party’s decision to boycott the coming election, rather than ousting its charismatic leader in order to participate, was largely expected.

But the move will do nothing to ease international concern about the country’s already heavily-criticised political standards, she adds.

No compromise

The NLD’s decision followed a meeting of more than 100 party members in Rangoon.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the party had agreed that it could not participate in the elections under the new laws, which were announced in early March.

“After a vote of the committee of members, the NLD party has decided not to register as a political party because the election laws are unjust,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

The decision did not come as a surprise – last week Nyan Win said Ms Suu Kyi had told him the party should “not even think” of taking part in the polls because of the nature of the election laws.

If the NLD had chosen to take part, it would have implied its acceptance of the military’s constitution – something it has so far refused to do.

Some senior NLD leaders had argued the party risked rendering itself irrelevant if it chose not to contest the polls, even though that participation would be constrained by the military.

Win Tin, a veteran NLD member and one of Burma’s longest-serving political prisoners, described the meeting as a “life-or-death issue”.

“If we don’t register, we will not have a party and we will be without legs and limbs,” he said ahead of the announcement.

But Tin Oo, the party’s recently-released deputy leader, said that the decision did not signal the end for the NLD. “There are many peaceful ways to continue our activities,” he said.

The new election laws have been condemned by the UN, US and UK, among others.

The laws state that parties cannot have any members with criminal convictions – which rules out many top NLD leaders who have been jailed because of their political activism.

The laws also ban members of religious orders and civil servants from joining political parties. Buddhist monks were the driving force behind anti-junta protests in 2007.

Critics say both the election laws and the constitution under which the elections will be held are designed to ensure that the military retains a firm grip on power in Burma.

With Burma election boycott, Suu Kyi party risks breakup


Aung San Suu Kyi party members announced a boycott on the Burma election Monday to avoid endorsing an “unfair” process. But the largest opposition group in Burma (Myanmar) now risks being broken up under controversial election laws.


The largest opposition party in Burma (Myanmar) said Monday it won’t contest military-run elections later this year, a move that under controversial election laws could lead to its breakup.

The decision by the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, came after a party meeting in Rangoon (Yangon). Spokesman Nyan Win told reporters that members had voted not to participate because “the election laws are unjust,” Reuters reported.

The NLD has been gripped by divisions over the logic of an election boycott, which is punishable by party dissolution. Some activists argued that staying out of the political process was futile, while others insisted that capitulation to an undemocratic ballot was wrong.

Monday’s decision wasn’t a surprise, as Ms. Suu Kyi was recently quoted as saying she was personally opposed to participation but would allow the party to decide for itself. The Nobel Peace laureate, who led the NLD to victory in a 1990 poll that was later annulled, is considered untouchable by many party members.

Cramping Western engagement

The Obama administration has sought to engage with Burma’s military rulers while maintaining longstanding sanctions. It has also strongly criticized a 2008 Constitution and the laws governing the election, expected to be held in October or November.

Among the rules laid down by the junta is a ban on prisoners joining political parties, which excludes Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 other political detainees. Monks and civil servants are also banned. Parties have until May 7 to register for the election or face dissolution.
Dozens of new and existing parties are expected to contest elections overseen by a military-appointed commission. But the exclusion of the NLD, even by its own hand, may drive a wedge between Western powers and Asian countries keen to strengthen ties to Burma and willing to give a passing grade to a flawed election.

“It will be difficult for the US and the West to engage with Burma on this issue,” says Aung Naing Oo, an exiled Burmese analyst in Chiang Mai, Thailand, who has urged the NLD to participate in the elections.

A “principled stance
Advocates of an election boycott reject the argument that civilian rule is a first step toward democracy, even if the vote is imperfect. They argue that the NLD and other democrats will be emasculated in a parliament in which military proxies and appointed generals will control the levers.

In a commentary in the Irrawaddy, an exile-run publication, Dr. Zarni, a dissident based in Bangkok, compared participation to the abdication in 1885 of King Thibaw, Burma’s last sovereign, at colonial Britain’s behest.

The political process ‘on offer’ by Burma’s ruling military junta is deeply one-sided, harmful to the country’s interests … so much so that anyone who cares about the country’s future should stiffen the spine and take a realistic and principled stance against the ‘election’; he wrote.

Even if the NLD stays out, some members may chose to set up alternative parties or lend support to other allied parties. But they could find themselves coming in conflict with other NLD factions that want to enforce the boycott, says Aung Naing Oo.

He warns that other activists frustrated by the junta’s glacial path to democracy may take a more radical approach, despite the odds stacked against them. My biggest worry is a possible confrontation with the military. That could come soon, he says.

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