Burma’s announcement of the date for elections this year has been met with strong words by the international community, with the US saying there remains “no level playing field” for the polls.
The date for the country’s first elections in 20 years has been set for 7 November, after months of wild speculation and rumours, and even doubt as to whether they would be held this year.
But the UK foreign minister, Jeremy Browne, said that the polls “are set to be held under deeply oppressive conditions designed to perpetuate military rule,” adding that the opportunity for prosperity and an open society “has been missed”.
November will mark the fifth elections since Burma won independence from British rule in 1948, but only the second since a coup in 1962 heralded the start of military rule.
His comments were echoed by US state department spokesman Philip Crowley, who said that “given the oppressive political environment in Burma…[elections] cannot be inclusive or credible under these circumstances.”
The Burmese government has already allocated 166 out of 654 parliamentary seats to military officials, while the constitution stipulates that elected vice presidents must have prior military experience.
The election date, announced by state media on Friday, falls about a week before Aung San Suu Kyi’s current term of house arrest is due to expire on 13 November. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has boycotted the election, while 40 parties have so far been approved to run.
Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, said that the secretary general had urged Burma “to release all remaining political prisoners without delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country”.
Burma holds some 2,150 political prisoners in jails across the country. Suu Kyi, whose party won the 1990 elections but were never handed power, has been under house arrest for 15 of the past 20 years.
Ban Ki-moon reportedly renewed his appeal to the ruling junta “to honour their publicly stated commitments to hold inclusive, free and fair elections in order to advance the prospects of peace, democracy and development for Myanmar [Burma]”.