Burma will hold its first elections in two decades on November 7, the ruling military junta has announced, amid widespread international expectations that the poll will be neither free nor fair.
New electoral laws exclude iconic democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi by barring anybody serving a custodial sentence.
In protest her National League for Democracy (NDL) is boycotting the election and urging other groups not to participate, to avoid legitimising military rule.
The elections will also enact a controversial new Constitution that guarantees 25% of the seats in Parliament and reserves key ministries for the military.
The poll presents a massive logistical challenge for the authorities, who have less than three months to organise an election during Burma’s wet season in a country of more than 50-million people, separated by mountains, poor roads and resistance armies.
Nearly 40 parties have registered, though 11 are regime or proxy-regime organisations. Finding support for parties opposed to the ruling junta is difficult, democracy activists say.
Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein is one of “Burma’s princesses”, daughters of former prime ministers who lead the newly formed Democratic Party.
“People — don’t want to come near us. They say it’s safer to stay away from the politicians because otherwise the government will bully them,” she said.
Most opposition parties are targeting only a few seats, while the 26 parties representing ethnic minorities will contest only seats where they have substantial populations. The military will contest every seat.
The international community has grown increasingly frustrated by the secrecy surrounding Burma’s election preparations and the country’s draconian new electoral laws.
“A lack of cooperation at this critical moment represents — a lost opportunity,” the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said this week. —