Friday, 12 March 2010 11:14 Adam Selene (commentary)
The new election laws for the 2010 election are generally considered to be bad news for the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD). Not only does the regime bar the party’s General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in the elections, it is also pressuring the NLD to expel her from the party, as anybody who is serving a sentence is deemed not fit by the regime to be a party member.
At the same time, the government has announced a deadline stipulating that all parties that want to take part in the elections must register within 60 days, with failure to do so resulting in the party’s illegality.
Thus the NLD is facing two big issues. Should the party take part in the elections without any review of the constitution as demanded in the Shwegondaing declaration? And should the party expel its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to satisfy the government?
The NLD can of late be seen to be shifting its position. Aung San Suu Kyi is willing to accept the constitution, her lawyer and Central Executive Committee member Nyan Win told me in February. But she would like to see compromise on some other points. For instance, that the elections will be free and fair. So, in theory, there is an opening. If Aung San Suu Kyi says the NLD will compete, it will, as her decision is final.
The answer to the second question is more clear-cut. Party membership and the appointment of party leaders is not an issue for the government. It is none of their business. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be disqualified by her party because of a fabricated crime. If the party did so, it would mean acknowledging that the regime was right in sentencing her in the first place, which would be absurd.
So what should the NLD do in this difficult situation? A bold strategic approach to expose the regime would be best.
Let us be frank, any party should have the ambition to wield influence in parliament and be part of the government. The NLD should register for the elections as soon as possible. But the NLD should also defy the government with regards to the eligibility of party members. Register first and see what happens.
If the election commission does not allow the NLD to take part because Aung San Suu Kyi is still a member, or if the government decides to dissolve the party, then it will be all too clear what is the agenda of the regime. The NLD will not be at fault, because it tried and was excluded.
Not only will other democratic parties in Burma then decide to boycott the elections, but the U.S., EU and even ASEAN, which have each called for free and inclusive elections, will be very critical.
If the NLD does not exclude itself but leaves it up to the government to exclude the party, all efforts of the regime to produce a façade of free and fair election will be laid to waste, and the regime left with its pants down.
(Adam Selene, a pseudonym, is a Bangkok-based journalist who has been travelling to Burma for over a decade.)