Critics have dismissed the nationwide polls as a sham designed to entrench the generals in power.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained opposition leader, is barred from standing and a quarter of parliamentary seats will be nominated by the military rulers.

Democratic 'mockery'

The government has not announced a date for the elections, but a senior official said the elections - the first to be held in more than 20 years - would take place around early November.

"The candidates will get about six months for campaigning after they have registered as political parties. The elections will be in the last week of October or early in November," he told the AFP news agency.

Myanmar held its 65th armed forces day on Saturday in Naypyidaw [AFP]
 
 

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 1990 elections in a landslide, but the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, never allowed it to take power and the Nobel laureate has been imprisoned for most of the last 20 years.

Under election laws announced this month, the NLD would have to expel their leader in order to contest the polls, but it has not yet said if it will take part and is expected to make an announcement on Monday.

The United States has led international criticism, saying the election laws make a "mockery" of democracy.

Political struggle

Than Shwe defended the election plans at Saturday's parade, saying that many of the military personnel were once politicians, and that the elections would make them civilians once again.

"They will turn back into politicians and engage in national politics when the time comes for political struggle," he said. "This year's elections represent only the beginning of the process of fostering democracy."

Zaw Oo, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, told Al Jazeera: "A lot of the Burmese population has seen the military becoming a new class enjoying all the privileges and perks of the country.

"Perhaps in the upcoming elections, when the military works together with civilians, they might be able to correct that perception."

The vote is part of the government's seven-step "roadmap to democracy", including a new constitution enacted after a referendum held days after a cyclone ravaged the country in May 2008.

Foreign journalists have been barred from covering armed forces day for the past two years, but the military rulers granted visas for this year's landmark parade, which marks Myanmar's resistance against Japanese occupation in World War II.

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of more than 2,000 political prisoners held in Myanmar, which remains under US and European sanctions over its human rights record.

Earlier this month, Tomas Quintana, the UN's human rights envoy, said that violations in Myanmar may amount to crimes against humanity and could warrant a UN inquiry.

The remark was strongly denounced by the military rulers.