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Thursday, February 21, 2008
Ban on Suu Kyi shatters hopes for Myanmar polls
BANGKOK (AFP) -- Myanmar's sudden decision to bar Aung San Suu Kyi from planned elections shatters any shard of credibility for the ruling junta's self-proclaimed ""road map"" to democracy, analysts said Wednesday.
The regime made a surprise announcement on February 9 that it would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May, to set the stage for democratic elections in 2010, the first in 20 years.
But late Tuesday just as the junta said the final draft was complete, foreign minister Nyan Win told a regional gathering in Singapore that the constitution would bar detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running in elections.
""They have one goal in mind, that is to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking office. All the rules have been set to prevent her for various reasons from running,"" said Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
And if the junta pushes ahead with its plans without opening a meaningful dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the ""road map"" could lead nowhere.
""It doesn't mean anything in terms of improvement of the political situation, because the democratic forces will continue to be marginalized and persecuted,"" Sunai said.
If held, the elections would be the first since Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to a landslide victory in 1990.
The regime, however, ignored the result, and has kept the democracy icon under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.
The military then spent 14 years drafting guidelines for a new constitution, which were released in September. The new basic law would block Aung San Suu Kyi from running in elections because she was married to a foreigner.
Her British husband died of cancer nine years ago, and her two sons are also British nationals.
Since releasing the guidelines, the regime has come under mounting international pressure over its violent suppression of anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks last year.
The September demonstrations were the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades and soldiers responded by opening fire on the crowds. At least 31 people were killed, according to the United Nations.
After the crackdown, the junta made a series of concessions, allowing UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to visit the country twice, and naming a liaison officer to hold talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
Those moves had sparked faint hopes that the junta could be persuaded to make changes to its charter, said Myanmar analyst Win Min, who is based in neighboring Thailand.
But the confirmation that she will be barred from the polls ""is a signal that even the NLD could not be allowed to run in the next elections,"" he said.
Gambari said in Beijing on Tuesday that he expected to be allowed to return soon to Myanmar, but analysts doubted that he would be able to convince the regime to relent.
""I can't see the charter being reopened, and Gambari, he's playing a very difficult hand. In many ways he's playing it quite well, but he doesn't have a lot of traction in the country,"" said John Virgoe, Southeast Asia project director for International Crisis Group.
""The question is to what extent can (Aung San Suu Kyi) and the democratic opposition more broadly find a way of engaging with the regime.""
""Are there ways that you can use that 'road map' process, deeply flawed as it is, to advance change in Myanmar,"" Virgoe added.
The NLD has yet to stake out a clear stance on the referendum, but has warned that the regime must respect their victory in the 1990 elections in order for the country to move toward democracy.
Party spokesman Nyan Win has denounced the government's election scheme as ""unjust,"" saying the military appeared to be making plans for the elections before knowing the outcome of the referendum.