Myanmar elections 'to be held soon'
Senior General says elections to proceed this year but gives no specific dates.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2010 09:29 GMT
An opposition boycott could hurt the military government's "roadmap to democracy" [EPA]

Myanmar's military ruler has said that the long-awaited election planned for this year will take place "soon".

The military government in early 2008 announced that the country's first election in two decades would take place in 2010, but has not yet set an exact date or passed the necessary laws.

In a speech published on Friday in state-controlled media to mark Union Day, Senior General Than Shwe said "a free and fair election will take place soon".

"That means national people will have the rights to elect representatives, and stand for election," the 77-year-old said in his annual national holiday message.

"So, members of parliament, who the voters think will be capable of generating a prosperous future for the nation, will be elected by ballot."

The last election in 1990 was won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the results were never honoured by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

'Not credible'

An election boycott by the NLD would deal a a potential blow to the Myanmar government's promotion of the polls as part of a "roadmap to democracy".

The NLD said the new constitution of 2008 is unfair, containing clauses that would ensure the military remains the controlling power in government, and would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from holding office.

"Aung San Suu Kyi said if freedom of information and freedom of expression are not allowed, the elections will neither be free nor fair nor credible"

Nyan Win, her lawyer and NLD spokesman

On Friday Aung San Suu Kyi said she has not decided whether her party will contest the planned polls, according to her lawyer, Nyan Win.

Nyan Win, who is also a party spokesman, said Aung San Suu Kyi herself has not yet decided whether to participate in the election.

According to him, she said the poll cannot be credible unless the government allows freedom of information.

"Aung San Suu Kyi said if freedom of information and freedom of expression are not allowed, the elections will neither be free nor fair nor credible," said Nyan Win, after meeting her at her house on Tuesday.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is serving a new 18-month sentence of house arrest in a country where the military government tightly controls information.

"[She] said she is in no condition to decide whether the NLD should participate in the elections or not as she cannot follow up on her decision if she remains detained," Nyan Win had said earlier this week.

According to him, Aung San Suu Kyi also said the international community should understand that the elections in Myanmar cannot be considered as similar to those in other countries "as everything has to start from scratch", without any new parties being approved yet and her own party not yet allowed to reopen its district offices.

International reaction

Meanwhile a UN human rights envoy is expected to visit Myanmar next week, days after the military government jailed a US activist in a crackdown on dissent.

Myanmar timeline

1988: Military crackdown on pro-democracy protests, estimated 3,000 killed


1989: Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to house arrest for allegedly endangering the state


1990: NLD wins landslide in national election; military refuses to recognise result


1991: Suu Kyi awarded Nobel Peace Prize


1995: Suu Kyi freed, but movements restricted


1997: Myanmar admitted to Asean


2000: Suu Kyi sentenced to house arrest for defying travel restrictions


2002: Suu Kyi released following UN-facilitated secret talks with government


2003: Government unveils "road map" to democracy; Suu Kyi returned to house arrest after her convoy is attacked in north of country


2005: Government announces shift to new capital Naypidaw


2007: Nearly 3,000 prisoners released in amnesty to mark independence anniversary, but no key political figures freed

Tomas Ojea Quintana is scheduled to start his five-day trip on Monday, including planned meetings with Nyan Win, Myanmar's foreign minister. He is not expected to meet Than Shwe.

Quintana, on his third visit to Myanmar after a mission last year was postponed, said he also wanted to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said in a statement released by the UN human rights office in Geneva that 2010 was "a critical time for the people of Myanmar".

"I hope that my request to the government to meet with... Aung San Suu Kyi will be granted this time," he added.

"It would be important for me to meet with political party leaders in the context of this year's landmark elections."

In confirming Quintana's visit a Myanmar official said he would visit Sittwe, in Western Rakhine state, near the country's border with Bangladesh.

On Thursday European Union legislators passed a resolution urging China, India and Russia to use their might to pressure Myanmar to improve human rights and called on them to stop supplying arms to the regime.

The parliamentarians urged "China, India and Russia to use their economic and political leverage with the authorities of Myanmar in order to bring about substantial improvements in the country".

They also called on the three "to stop supplying the [Myanmar] regime with weaponry and other strategic resources".

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