Myanmar military announces strict new election law ahead of polls

New rules, published in state media, appear designed to ensure there is no meaningful opposition to the military.

A supporter holds an NLD flag high in the air. The flat is red with yellow markings and stands out against the grey sky
The new rules suggest it will be very difficult for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to contest the election [File: Shwe Paw Mya Tin/Reuters]

Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a coup almost two years ago, has announced a strict new law on political parties that is likely to raise further questions about the fairness of elections promised by August.

The law, replacing legislation from 2010, bars parties and candidates deemed to have links to individuals or organisations “designated as committing terror acts” or seen as “unlawful”.

Parties that want to contest the national election will also need to secure at least 100,000 members within three months of registration and have funds of 100 million Myanmar kyat ($45,500), 100 times more than previously. The money has to be deposited with the state-owned Myanma Economic Bank.

The law, signed by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, was published in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Friday.

The military detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on February 1, 2021, in the wake of an election that returned her National League for Democracy to office in a landslide.

The generals claimed without evidence that there was fraud in the poll. International monitors who observed the November 2020 election found it to be largely free and fair.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains hugely popular, has been jailed for more than 30 years following secretive trials on charges from illegally owning walkie-talkies to corruption that critics say are designed to remove her from the country’s political life. Other senior members of her party, including removed President Win Myint, have also been tried and jailed.

Amid widespread international criticism of the coup and sanctions from the United States and other countries, the military initially announced it would hold new elections within a year. It then backtracked to say they would be held between February and August 2023.

The new law states any existing party must apply for registration within two months of the legislation being announced or be “automatically invalidated”. Parties can also be suspended for three years, and ultimately dissolved, for failing to comply with the provisions of the new law.

The legislation also says parties are not allowed to lodge an appeal against election commission decisions on registration.

The coup plunged Myanmar into a political crisis as the military’s brutal crackdown on anti-coup protests led civilians to take up arms and join forces with ethnic armed groups in the country’s border regions.

Nearly 3,000 people have been killed by the military since it seized power, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group monitoring the crackdown.

Thousands more have been detained with groups fighting against the military designated as “terrorists”.

Source: Al Jazeera