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Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party in Burma met Monday to debate whether to register for the nation’s first polls in two decades – a move that would force it to oust its detained leader.
According to a new law announced ahead of elections expected by early November in the military-ruled country, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party has less than six weeks to sign up or face dissolution.
No registered parties can have a serving prisoner in their ranks, a rule which would force out Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest and has been detained for 14 of the last 20 years.
“I expect that the decision might be reached not to register the party,” party spokesman Nyan Win told AFP before the meeting opened at NLD headquarters in Rangoon, monitored by patrolling plain-clothed police.
Suu Kyi said last week she would “never accept” her party registering because the laws are “unjust”. But she said the party should decide “democratically”, according Nyan Win, who is also Suu Kyi’s lawyer.
“If we register, it would mean the NLD is doing everything the junta asks it to do. The NLD is working for free democracy. So we cannot accept what the government is asking,” Nyan Win added.
However another party spokesman, Khin Maung Swe, said he was “strongly in favour” of registering for what would be the first election since 1990.
“We should keep the NLD party,” he said, suggesting it had no future if it did not sign up for the vote. “I assume that there is a majority of people who do not want to register, but the results will come out after our discussions,” he told AFP.
In all, 115 party representatives attended the meeting as dozens of rank-and-file members gathered outside, some wearing white tops bearing the slogan: “We believe Aung San Suu Kyi”.
“We have sacrificed our life for 20 years and finally we have to give up like this. So you can imagine how we feel in our hearts,” said Nann Khin Htwe Mying, a senior NLD member who arrived for the talks from eastern Karen state.
The United States has led international criticism of the new election laws, saying they makes a “mockery” of democracy. Critics dismiss the planned poll as a sham designed to entrench the power of the military which has ruled since 1962.
The new legislation also officially annuls the result of Burma’s last election in 1990, which the NLD won by a landslide but was never allowed to take power by the junta.
Junta chief Senior General Than Shwe warned Saturday against “divisive” and “slanderous” election campaigning as he presided over the country’s final annual military parade ahead of the vote.
The government has not announced an election date but a senior official told AFP it would take place in the last week of October or early November.
The vote is part of the government’s seven-step “Roadmap to Democracy”, which also includes a controversial new constitution enacted after a national referendum that was held days after a cyclone ravaged the country in May 2008.
If the NLD registers, it would have to accept the constitution, which it has previously refused to recognise.
Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi is one of more than 2,000 political prisoners held in Burma, which remains under US and European sanctions over its human rights record.