The Obama administration on Friday slammed a decision by Burma’s ruling junta to hold the country’s first elections in two decades on Nov. 7, saying the vote will lack credibility because the military has shut out most of the opposition, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military rulers announced the date for the election earlier on Friday.
“We remain concerned about the lack of a level playing field for opposition parties and the oppressive political environment in Burma,” State Department spokesman Noel Clay told The Washington Times.
“This election cannot be inclusive or credible under current circumstances,” he added.
Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s largest opposition party, was disbanded earlier this year after the military put in place election laws that force political parties to expel members with criminal records, including political prisoners such as Mrs. Suu Kyi.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell described the election as a charade.
“Although the Burmese junta will characterize the charade it announced today as an election — an exercise that only the junta considers meaningful — November 7, 2010 will be just another day in Burma, marked by continued government oppression and hardship for its people,” Mr. McConnell said.
The election will be the first since the NLD won a landslide victory in 1990.
The junta never allowed the NLD to govern and Mrs. Suu Kyi has spent much of the past 20 years in jail or under house arrest.
Mrs. Suu Kyi’s current term of house arrest expires days after the proposed election.
Noting that the regime continues to hold many political prisoners besides restricting the basic rights and freedoms of the Burmese people, Mr. Clay urged the junta to release all political prisoners, including Mrs. Suu Kyi, and to enter into genuine dialogue with all stakeholders as a first step toward national reconciliation.
Political parties are required to swear allegiance to the 2008 constitution under which the military is guaranteed a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament and one-third in the upper house regardless of the outcome of the vote. The 2008 constitution was written by delegates handpicked by the regime and without input from the opposition.
“Repressive election laws severely limit competition,” Mr. Clay said.
Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said the U.S. and United Nations had failed to exercise “effective pressure” on the junta.
“The generals in Burma are now confident that the international community can’t and won’t do anything beyond issuing statements to stop their crimes against humanity and plan to build a permanent military dictatorship in the country,” Mr. Aung Din said.
He said this was the reason the junta was moving forward to hold the “sham election.”
Mr. McConnell urged President Obama to renew his support for Mrs. Suu Kyi and pro-democracy forces in Burma.
He said the president must ensure that elements of the international community are “not tempted to recognize this mockery of the democratic process.”