Thursday, 24 June 2010

Myanmar restricts political activity ahead of polls

(AFP News)YANGON — Members of political parties contesting Myanmar's first elections in two decades will be banned from marching, waving flags and chanting to garner support, under rules announced Wednesday.

The directive, which did not reveal a date for the polls, requires party members who want to gather and deliver speeches at places other than their offices to apply for a permit one week in advance, according to state media.

The rules prohibit "the act of marching to the designated gathering point and the venue holding flags, or marching and chanting slogans in procession" in a bid to enlist members, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

Parties must have at least 1,000 members to contest the nationwide election.

Holding knives, weapons and ammunition are also banned, along with acts that harm security and the rule of law or tarnish the image of the military. Misuse of religion for political gains is also not allowed, state media said.

Critics have dismissed the election -- which is scheduled for some time later this year -- as a sham due to laws that have effectively barred opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating.

The United States said Tuesday that the polls will "not be free or fair and will lack international legitimacy".

Suu Kyi's party won the last polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take office. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) was forcibly dissolved last month under widely criticised laws governing the polls.

The NLD refused to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register as a party -- a move that would have forced it to expel Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest -- and is boycotting the vote.

Under election legislation unveiled in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule will be abolished.

The latest directive for drumming up support among voters has upset some parties who fear they will make it harder to connect with people.

"The political parties will be in a tight corner because of these rules," said Ye Tun, chairman of the 88th Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar), which despite its name is pro-government.

"We are in difficult position to work in some places. They restricted our movements such as holding flags."

But other parties welcomed the rules, saying they could have been even more restrictive.

"We can transform from party politics to people politics if we can get in touch with the people through party meetings," said Phyo Min Thein, chairman of the Union Democratic Party.

A faction from within the disbanded NLD has applied to form a new political party, to be called the National Democratic Force, in a bid to advance the movement's two-decade campaign to end military rule.

According to official figures, 36 out of 42 groups which have applied to form political parties have been registered.

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