Junta members to stand as civilians in Burma election

More than 20 members of Burma’s ruling junta have resigned from the army in what is widely seen as a bid to run as civilians in forthcoming elections and thereby prolong military control.

The Prime Minister, General Thein Sein, and 22 other cabinet ministers were reported to have given up their uniforms on Monday. No official reason was given, but observers said the move was a precursor to running for election.

No date has been given for the vote, which will be the country’s first in two decades, but it is generally expected to take place in October or November. The elections will bring into force a new constitution in which a new national legislature will be made up of 330 elected civilians and 110 military representatives. The junta members who have resigned would be counted as civilians.

“They will be wearing suits rather than uniforms, but it’s just the first stage in the transition from a military dictatorship to a civilian dictatorship,” said Mark Farmaner, the director of the Burma Campaign UK, a pro-democracy pressure group.

Farmaner said that under the new constitution, real power would reside in a national defence and security council. Parliament would serve as no more than a rubber stamp, for the sake of Burma’s international image. The head of the armed forces, General Than Shwe, would remain the most powerful figure in the country and key ministries would remain under military control.

More than 20 new parties have applied to register, but so far only five have been granted permission. Four of the 10 existing parties have also applied. Most of those given the green light are close to the ruling regime. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has said it will not participate because “unjust” election laws announced in March would require the league to expel its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because she has a criminal record.

The league won the last elections in 1990 by a landslide, but was prevented from taking office by the military, which has run the country since 1962, almost without interruption.

The European Council issued a statement on Burma this week expressing “serious concerns that election laws as published in early March do not provide for free and fair elections”.

The junta has attempted to put on a civilian face before, with a constitution in 1974 establishing a socialist one-party state. That lasted until a popular uprising in 1988 and a second military coup. — Guardian News and Media 2010

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