- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

YANGON, Myanmar | Myanmar’s military regime took yet another step to expunge Aung San Suu Kyi from the political scene Wednesday by effectively barring her from the first elections in 20 years and pressuring her opposition party to expel her from its ranks.

A new election law announced Wednesday prohibits anyone convicted of a crime — as Mrs. Suu Kyi was in August — from being a member of a political party. That makes the detained democracy leader ineligible to become a candidate in historic elections scheduled for some time later this year.

The United States and Britain expressed disappointment and regret at the junta’s latest move. Analysts called it a clear slap in the face for the international community, which has repeatedly said the elections would not be legitimate if the detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate is barred from running.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, 64, is the head of the opposition National League for Democracy, which won a landslide victory in the last Myanmar election in 1990. The junta ignored those results and has kept Mrs. Suu Kyi jailed or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.

The new law, the Political Parties Registration Law, could also force Mrs. Suu Kyi out of her opposition party. It instructs parties to expel members who are “not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party.”

Hours after announcing the blow to the opposition party, the junta offered a carrot. On Wednesday evening, authorities began to reopen several NLD offices in Yangon, by removing red wax that had been sealed over their locks since 2003 to restrict party activities, said party spokesman Nyan Win.

The government currently recognizes 10 parties. The date of the elections has not been announced, and Mrs. Suu Kyi’s party has not said whether it will contest the balloting.

In August, Mrs. Suu Kyi was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence. She was sentenced to an extended 18 months of house arrest, which would keep her locked away during elections.

The junta enacted five election-related laws Monday that set out the rules for the election, campaigning and conditions under which parties may participate.

So far, it has made public two of the laws. The first stipulates that the junta will appoint the five-member Election Commission.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the laws detailed so far are disappointing. Mrs. Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest so she can “play an active role in the political life of the country going forward,” Mr. Campbell said during a trip to Malaysia.

The United States recently has modified its strict policy of isolating the junta to embark on a new policy of engagement. However, the Obama administration has said it will not lift sanctions on Myanmar unless its sees concrete progress toward democratic reform.

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