The party of detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met on Tuesday to decide whether to take part in controversial elections planned for next year by the ruling junta.
Dozens of plainclothes policemen stood guard as members of the National League For Democracy (NLD) gathered at the party headquarters in the commercial hub of Rangoon for two days of talks on the polls.
Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the military never let it take office. Critics say the 2010 polls are a sham aimed at entrenching the military’s power.
NLD chairperson Aung Shwe said the meeting would discuss the ”political situation prevailing in the country” and an army-backed Constitution approved in May 2008, under which the vote will be held.
”The result of the discussions will decide whether the NLD will participate in the upcoming national elections,” Aung Shwe said in his opening speech to the gathering, which was attended by several Western diplomats.
He said the NLD wanted a commission of people’s representatives to review the Constitution, the approval of which came just days after Cyclone Nargis lashed Burma last May and left 138 000 people dead or missing.
”The present draft Constitution has many flaws. The Constitution’s main objective is for the propagation of perpetual military rule in this country and therefore is not acceptable,” Aung Shwe said.
Party officials said a decision on the elections was likely on Wednesday. The meeting comprised 93 members who won parliamentary seats in 1990 and 55 NLD officials from around the country.
About 50 security officers in plain clothes were deployed at the party’s headquarters. Some filmed or photographed people as they arrived.
The party also called for the ”unconditional release” of Aung San Suu Kyi and deputy chairperson Tin Oo, who are under house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi (63), who won the Nobel prize in 1991, has been detained for most of the past two decades, mostly isolated from the outside world, only receiving visits from her doctor and lawyer.
Her latest period of house arrest is due to expire at the end of May.
”According to the law we hope this May 30 should be the last for her detention,” NLD spokesperson Win Naing said at Tuesday’s meeting.
However, diplomats said it was unlikely that the junta would free her before elections, having already handed out long jail terms to dozens of political activists in recent months.
”It is difficult to imagine that the generals would free Aung San Suu Kyi at the moment when the [electoral] campaign is really about to begin,” said one Western diplomat in Rangoon, adding that they might consider it once a new government is formed.
The military, which has ruled impoverished Burma since 1962, has announced the polls next year under its so-called ”road map to democracy”. Diplomats say the junta may be aiming for a date in March 2010.
The junta is believed to have made behind-the-scenes preparations for candidates for the elections but there has been no notification of election law or party registration so far.
The NLD meeting comes a day after the European Union extended sanctions against Burma for another year, but said they were ready to ease them and hold talks if there was democratic progress.
The United States also has tough sanctions in place against Burma. — Sapa-AFP