Myanmar’s military government took an early step toward holding parliamentary elections, but it did so by imposing strict rules on political parties that may make fair balloting difficult.
The country has been under sanctions, including by the US and EU, since the coup in 2021 that toppled the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Seeking to ease international pressure, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing said parliamentary elections would likely be held by August 2023. As an early step in the election process, the military also issued a 20-page law prescribing complicated and rigorous rules for political parties hoping to compete.
The law could block Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won the 2020 election by a landslide despite the junta’s claim of voter fraud dismissed by international observers. A party could be dissolved if it is declared unlawful or is alleged to have communications with terrorist organizations, according to the new law.
The law also sharply increases the requirement for membership of political parties vying for seats nationwide to 100 times higher than what had been prescribed before the coup. Political parties will now be required to have at least 100,000 members within three months from the date of getting approval and have to deposit 100 million kyat ($43,727) at state-owned Myanma Economic Bank.
The law also says the existing political parties shall be deemed dissolved if they fail to re-register at the Union Election Commission within two months. Political parties also need to open offices in at least half of 330 townships across the nation within six months after registering, according to the newly-enacted law. The regime has the right to dissolve any party if it fails to compete in at least half of all constituencies and fails to compete in by-elections.
The regime has handed 33-year imprisonment to Suu Kyi and jailed a number of other key leaders at her party including former president Win Myint.
In November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the international community to deny the military any credibility it sought by holding a national election that didn’t “meaningfully engage with pro-democracy leaders.”
“The regime’s planned sham elections, which could not possibly be free and fair in the current context, will only fuel more violence, prolong the crisis, and defer the country’s transition to democracy and stability,” he said.