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Burma’s military government will select the five-member commission to preside over elections this year, it has announced after unveiling the first batch of election laws.
State media said today that the commission will “supervise the practising of the Union of Myanmar [Burma] people’s rights to elect or stand for election as well as the political parties.”
The first election laws were enacted on Monday but explanation of the five laws will trickle out over the course of this week in ‘special supplements’ issued alongside the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper. The laws will also be published in a book.
Members of the commission will not belong to political parties and will have to be aged 50 or over and adjudged by the military junta to be “loyal” and “eminent”.
The commission will theoretically be in control during the election period. Powers over the elections include the “supervising [of] political parties to perform in accordance with the law”, the newspaper said.
The cherry-picking of election governors is likely to raise already heightened fears that polls will be manipulated by the government, which has already awarded around a quarter of parliamentary seats to the military even prior to voting.
Somsri Hannanuntasuk, director of the Asia Network for Free and Fair Elections (ANFREL), expressed “concern” about the selection of the commission, which will effectively be the “supreme body” during elections, but asserted that it should not be made up of members of political parties.
“Those people should come from civil society. If the people come from the military it will be a problem; how can it be credible? We don’t want people from political parties.”
The party elect, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has yet to state whether it will compete in the upcoming election. Its landslide victory in the 1990 elections, when it won 392 of the 492 seats, was ignored by the junta.
Much of its decision may weigh on the party registration laws which are expected to be announced on Wednesday.
Echoing Hannanuntasuk, political analyst Aung Naing Oo told DVB that “when you talk about democratic elections you should have an independent election commission”.
He added however that “when you look at the conditions before the elections, they are clearly not free and fair. These sorts of conditions were prevalent in 1990 but the election turned out to be 90 percent, if not 100 percent, free”.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that on election day itself the election won’t be free and fair”.
Although no date has been set by the government, the election this year will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and the country’s fifth general election since it won independence in 1948.
Since a 1962 coup led by General Ne Win, however, successive military governments have ruled the country with an iron fist and placed crippling restrictions on all opposition parties.