Myanmar curbs parties' contacts with foreigners

Myanmar curbs parties' contacts with foreigners

Junta-stacked election commission sets out rules ahead of planned 2023 vote

A man holds a National League for Democracy (NLD) flag during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on May 12 last year. (Photo: Stringer via AFP)
A man holds a National League for Democracy (NLD) flag during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on May 12 last year. (Photo: Stringer via AFP)

Myanmar’s ruling junta has moved to restrict political parties from meeting foreigners or international organisations ahead of an election expected next year.

The country has been plunged into turmoil and its economy is in tatters since a February 2021 coup that ousted the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military alleged widespread voter fraud during the November 2020 polls that the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide, although international observers said the election was largely free and fair.

The junta-stacked Union Election Commission said on Friday that the country’s 92 registered political parties would have to ask for permission if they wished to meet foreign organisations or individuals.

“Political parties need to respect the law. If they fail to do so their party’s registration will be dissolved,” the commission said in a statement.

The body also accused foreign embassies and international non-governmental organisations of interfering in the 2020 polls, resulting in fraud.

Political parties in Myanmar were scathing in their condemnation of the new edict.

Former NLD lawmaker Soe Thura Tun said it was undemocratic and did not respect the right to freedom of association.

“It’s not appropriate to restrict them (political parties),” he told AFP on Saturday.

Ko Ko Gyi, chair of the People’s Party, said the announcement was unprecedented and did not bode well for the prospects of the next election being a genuine exercise in democracy.

“We believe that their action will cause major damage to the Myanmar people and international community’s trust in the upcoming election and democratic system,” he said.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the international community to reject the junta’s “sham elections” planned for next year.

“They can be neither free nor fair under present conditions,” he said at the Asean foreign minsters’ meeting in Phnom Penh, from which the junta’s top diplomat was excluded because of its refusal to negotiate with its opponents.

Earlier this month, the junta extended a state of emergency by six months, saying elections could only take place when the conflict-wracked country was “stable and peaceful”.

It has previously said that elections would be held and the state of emergency lifted by August 2023 — extending the initial one-year timeline it announced days after the coup.

Last year, it cancelled the results of the 2020 polls, saying it had uncovered more than 11 million instances of alleged voter fraud.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and faces numerous charges that could result in her being jailed for more than 150 years.

Her economic adviser, Australian academic Sean Turnell, went on trial this week. He has pleaded not guilty to official secrets violations, which carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

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