Three political parties who competed in the 1990 elections in Burma say they will register again after being dissolved following their boycott of the November 2010 vote.
It is unclear whether the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) and Zomi National Congress (ZNC) will contest the looming April by-elections, but recent developments in Burma have prompted a change in direction for the ethnic parties.
The SNLD came third in elections 22 years ago that were won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy. The junta at the time however refused to hand over power, and instead locked up hundreds of opposition leaders. Tentative signs of reform in recent months by the new government in Burma have changed the political environment.
Sai Leik, spokesperson for the SNLD, said a major decision behind its decision to re-register was the release of party leader Khun Htun Oo, who was sentenced in 2005 for 93 years on charges of treason.
He was freed in the 13 January amnesty alongside other high-profile political prisoners such as Min Ko Naing and Ashin Gambira. Sai Leik said the party would be ready to re-enter Burma’s political arena at the end of February, but did not comment on its plans for the future.
The ZNC from Chin state in northwestern Burma however appear more likely to join the April contest. “Now is the beginning of a democratic [era] in Burma, with a lot of differences from before, and so we decided to register again,” said chairman Pu Cint Sian Thang. “Since the by-elections are in April, we will register by next month.”
The sense among many Burmese as the by-elections approach is one of optimism that space is opening for the opposition – pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will compete in the Rangoon township of Kawhmu, one of 48 constituencies where seats are up for grabs, and is likely to win a seat in parliament.
Burma’s various ethnic parties have attracted significant support in the past two elections, particularly Shan parties that ostensibly represent the interests of the state’s six million-strong population. Burma’s current vice president, Sai Mauk Kham, is also Shan.
Canvassing has already begun for the vote, with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy this week dispatching teams to Pegu division. The party says it will pitch its campaign around a pledge to develop ruralBurma, which has long been neglected by the government and where adequate education and healthcare systems are lacking.