Thursday, April 30, 2009

NLD Sets Conditions for Election Participation

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy has set three conditions for participation in the 2010 general election—the unconditional release of all political prisoners, amendment of any provisions in the 2008 constitution “not in accord with the democratic principles” and an all-inclusive free and fair poll under international supervision.

The conditions were agreed on at a two-day special national party meeting that ended in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The NLD said in a concluding “Shwegondaing Declaration” that it would also have to study the election law and party registration law before deciding whether to participate in the planned 2010 poll.

The NLD nevertheless accepted that elections were a landmark on the country’s journey to democracy, the statement said.

“At present, the ball is in their court and we have to wait and see their response,” NLD leader Win Tin told reporters after the meeting. “The NLD will not drop out of the political game.”

Observers who read the three-page declaration said the NLD’s conditions had not differed from policies already adopted before the meeting and rejected by the junta—the release of political prisoners, a review of the constitution, genuine dialogue to resolve Burma’s crisis and recognition of the 1990 election result.

“I do not think the Shwegondaing Declaration is any different from the NLD’s previous stance,” said Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for New Society, based in exile.

Two conditions—the release of political prisoners and amendment of the constitution—were quite sensitive for the junta to consider, however, he said.

Since the junta announced that its constitution had been approved in a 2008 referendum, it has rejected any possibility of amending the constitution, which reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military officers and grants the military permanent leading role in Burmese politics.

Junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe said on Burma’s Armed Forces Day in March declared that it was “necessary to refrain completely from undermining the Constitution that has been adopted by the people.”

On the question of political prisoners, the junta often denies it is holding any. The country has a known number of more than 2,100 political prisoners, however, and the number of arrested dissidents has doubled since August 2007.

In late 2008 and early 2009, thousands of prisoners were granted amnesty, but only a few political prisoners were among them.

Although the junta is not expected to agree on the NLD’s conditions for joining the 2010 election, the international community’s approach is quite similar to the NLD’s.

The Council of the European Union (EU) said on April 27 that the political and socio-economic challenges in Burma “can only be addressed through genuine dialogue with all stakeholders, including ethnic groups.”

The EU Council called for the release of all political prisoners and detainees in Burma, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as a credible, transparent and inclusive process in the 2010 elections.

The US policy on Burma is similar to the EU’s. Robert Wood, a US State Department spokesman, said on March 24 that the US was disappointed that the Burmese regime continues to ignore the calls of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to release political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.

“We once again urge the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners and initiate a genuine dialogue that can help move the country forward,” he said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, currently chaired by Thailand, also called for the release of Burmese political prisoners and an all-inclusive political process at its 14th summit on February 27- March 1.

Win Min, a Burmese analyst in Thailand, said the NLD declaration was quite practical because it included the party’s position on the 2010 elections.

“Now the NLD started talking about its stand on the election. Now they have strategy for the election. So we can say they are pragmatic,” he said.

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