On Tuesday the People’s Parliament discussed amending the election law for the house, with a National Democratic Force (NDF) MP objecting to the inclusion of stipulations that MPs convicted of laws such as the Unlawful Association and other acts viewed as political, could face the punishment of being permanently banned.
In the discussion yesterday, the NDF’s Sanchaung township representative Soe Win objected against the addition of a paragraph in the bill that specifies parliamentary representatives convicted of certain infringements would be slapped with the stricter punishment of a life time ban. At present punishments are not specified.
Amongst the laws that could be in the contentious paragraph were national treason, defying the constitution, bankruptcy and the unlawful associations act.
The military dominated parliament rejected the suggestion in open voting;
“[Soe Win] said there are parliament representatives who in the past were imprisoned under such [political charges] and that they should not be restricted from future elections under these amendments. The parliament decided to go for a vote whether to accept his objection or not and it turned out there were 31 votes in favour [of Soe Win’s objection], eight abstained and 382 against votes,” Pe Than an MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) told DVB.
Laws such as the Unlawful Association act are regularly used against activists and journalists, including at leasttwo DVB journalists who are now behind bars. It effectively means that the mere act of an MP talking to what the law defines as an unlawful association would bar them from politics for life, or indeed those already convicted of such crimes;
“It is a common thing for a political activist in Burma to have been in prison under political charges. And given that they have already served their punishments so they should not be restricted from participating in future elections,” Pe Than said.
The issue of defying the constitution and national treason are loosely defined and therefore open to interpretation but all such additions are likely to prevent large swathes of dissidents past or present from ever taking part in electoral politics in the country. Another exclusion was those suffering from mental problems, needless to say highly open to interpretation.
The discussion however was approved for parliament last week by speaker of the house former general Shwe Mann. The open voting system has acted to prevent the majority USDP and military candidates from diverging from the party line.