RANGOON — Burma's ruling junta will appoint the commission that will have final say over the country's first elections in two decades, state-run newspapers announced Tuesday as the country's military rulers began unveiling the laws that will govern this year's balloting.
There are growing fears among pro-democracy groups that the election—a date for which has not been announced—will be weighted in favor of the military and its supporters, and the first of five election-related laws to be published is likely to increase that unease.
Residents of Rangoon listen to news on new election laws being broadcast by state-run radio as they sit at a pavement tea shop on March, 8. (Photo:AP)
The laws enacted Monday will set out the mechanisms and rules for the election and campaigning, and the conditions under which parties may participate. Details were to be released in the state-run media over the coming days.
The first explained was the Union Election Commission Law, signed by junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe. It stipulates that the junta will appoint a Union Election Commission with a minimum of five members including the chairman. Decisions of the body would be final.
Members, who cannot be members of political parties, must be persons "deemed prominent and reputable" by the junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council.
Burma's military government announced in early 2008 that elections would take place sometime in 2010. A 1990 election was won by the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military refused to hand over power.
The party of Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest until November, has not yet committed itself to taking part in the polls because it claims the new constitution of 2008 is unfair. It has clauses that would ensure that the military retains a controlling say in government and bars Suu Kyi from holding office.
The party has said the election laws will help it determine whether it will participate.
The remaining four laws are said to cover the polls for the Pyithu Hluttaw, or House of Representatives; the polls for the Amyotha Hluttaw, or House of Nationalities, the other house of parliament; the polls for Region and State parliaments; and the Political Parties Registration Law.
The national and regional legislatures will all include military personnel nominated by their commander in chief.
The 440-member House of Representatives will have 330 elected civilians and 110 military representatives; while the 224-member House of Nationalities will seat 168 elected candidates and 56 nominated by the military chief.
Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. The Supreme Court last month dismissed her latest appeal for freedom. She was convicted last August of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home, and sentenced to a term of house arrest to end this November.
The sentence was seen as a ploy to effectively keep Suu Kyi locked up during any election campaign.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment Monday that Suu Kyi's appeal was rejected, adding that the legitimacy of the elections rests on the freedom of political prisoners.
"Most importantly, all the political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released as soon as possible, so that all of them can take part in elections," Ban said.
Ban said he wrote Than Shwe about 10 days ago "first of all expressing my concern about the lack of progress and also emphasizing the importance of the election ... to be (held in) a most credible, inclusive and transparent manner."