NLD proclaims 'positive' Than Shwe speech

Nov 30, 2009 (DVB), Burma's ruling general last week made a "positive contribution" towards future peace in the country during a speech that touched on elections next year, an opposition party spokesperson said.

In the speech, delivered to the government proxy Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), Senior Geneal Than Shwe promised "free and fair" elections for 2010, despite past pledges being met with skepticism from Burma observers.

Nyan Win, spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the speech was "not antagonistic", but a repeat of past government rhetoric.

"In our view, the speech did not rule out opportunities to work for the benefit of the nation," he said. The issue now is not about confrontation of policies but about exploring how best to find a solution and serve the interests of the nation.

"We believe that the speech under question is a positive contribution in that regard. We can see that the SPDC is not antagonistic and that it wants to work with goodwill for the betterment of the country."

The NLD is yet to announce whether it will participate in the elections next year, the first to be held in Burma since 1990, arguing that the 2008 constitution must first be revised before polling takes place.

Despite the government claiming that 92 percent of the country had approved the revised constitution, critics say that a guarantee of 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military even prior to voting calls into question the legitimacy of the government's pledge for free and fair elections.

Nay Myo Wei, from the Individual Politicians Network, said that parties must now be allowed to campaign freely for votes. The junta has placed tight restrictions on freedom of movement for opposition parties.

"Three basic methods of campaigning – distributing leaflets, giving speeches and showing campaign videos – should be allowed," he said.

"Even if we wouldn't be allowed to go onto the streets, it's still no problem , we can distribute leaflets, give speech and show campaign videos at our houses. But I expect [the government] to make everything clear."

His comments were echoed by Nyan Win: "I think the information on the freedom to campaign is more important than when the election is going to be held. For now, there is no freedom to campaign."

The government is yet to announce the election laws, or a date for when polling will take place. In 1990, around 200 political parties participated in the elections following the announcement of a law on the formation of parties.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

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