None of the five political parties that meet the criteria to take part in a general election in Myanmar can mount a challenge to the military’s grip on power, an opposition official said Tuesday, urging the groups to boycott any junta-led ballot.
So far, 23 political parties have applied to register for elections expected later this year, but only five meet the criteria to take part in the general election on a national level – all of which are led by former military officers or represent ethnic minority groups.
They are the Union Solidarity and Development Party, National Unity Party, Union Democratic Party, Public Contribute Students Democracy Party, and Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. The other 18 will compete locally in their states and regions.
Opponents and analysts say new stricter eligibility requirements, approved in January by the military that took control of the government in a February 2021 coup, favor military-aligned parties and seek to legitimize the junta through sham polls planned for later this year.
“The law on the registration of political parties was illegally enacted by the [junta] and are by no means agreeable,” Bo Bo Oo, a Yangon-based former lawmaker with the deposed National League for Democracy, told RFA Burmese.
“I do not want the political parties to register under the junta’s new law,” he said. “I don’t want them to recognize the new registration law as it may assist the legitimacy of the junta.”
The new law sets higher thresholds for minimum membership and funds, preventing smaller parties from registering.
Parties hoping to compete in national elections are required to have at least 100,000 members and a war chest of at least 100 million kyats (U.S.$45,000). Those planning to take part in state or regional elections will be required to have at least 1,000 members and 10 million kyats (U.S.$4,500).
The new law also requires parties to re-register with the Union Election Commission within 60 days of its passing. Therefore, parties are required to re-register by the end of March at the latest or are considered dissolved.
Absent from the existing group of 19 applicants is the NLD, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi that won the 2020 elections in a landslide. Today, Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint sit in prison, serving 33 and 12 years respectively.
Some opponents of the military are urging a boycott of the elections, which the junta has yet to announce a date for. They warn that smaller parties that take part will likely lose and only lend credibility to what they say is a sham ballot.
Only the USDP, which ran the country as a quasi-civilian government under then-President Thein Sein after an opposition boycott of the 2010 election held by the previous junta, is seen as a legitimate contender in 2023. The party, which serves as the junta’s electoral proxy, challenged the NLD’s election win based on allegations of fraud and assumed Myanmar’s presidency following the 2021 coup.
But other groups, including the Shan and Ethnic Nationalities Party, believe that an election is the only way to reestablish civilian rule in Myanmar.
“There will be a civilian government in some form after the election,” said party leader Sai Ai Pao, who also led efforts by a group of political parties to negotiate with the junta during peace talks and in January was awarded an honorary civilian title by junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
“Since we want to take the path of democracy, the election is a route we must take.”
Election is ‘practicing democracy’
Khin Maung Thein, who leads the political committee of the National Unity Party – a party formed in the 1960s by former junta leader Gen. Ne Win – told RFA that participation in the next election is participation in democracy.
“Election means we are practicing the democratic way. I think elections are the only way that the people can express their true will,” he said. “Our party has never boycotted an election based on who is leading the election preparations.”
The People’s Pioneer Party, one of the other 14 parties that will take part in local elections, is led by the junta’s former minister of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement, Thet Thet Khaing.
“We’re participating in the election to uplift the social life of the people,” the party’s spokesman Myo Set Thway told RFA. “Only when we have authority to act and speak in the interest of the people will we be able to uplift the lives of the people.”
He said the party’s goals can only be achieved if it can form a meaningful part of a government administration.
The junta’s new registration criteria were introduced amid widespread concerns over Myanmar’s upcoming election.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned in November that an election administered by the junta cannot be free and fair, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar.
Than Soe Naing, a political analyst, told RFA that parties participating in the junta’s election are doing so for their own private interests and will not be able to meet the needs of the people.
“They hope to gain some authority,” he said. “They are not the right ones to represent the entire people of Myanmar or to be able to meet their needs. I believe that is the reason why they have been approved to participate in the election.”
Political analysts have also pointed out that it is unfair for the junta to cancel the 2020 election results which saw the NLD win the majority of seats, essentially declaring a do-over.
However, several of the parties contacted by RFA believe that the current political crisis can only be resolved through a vote.
Than Than Nu, chairwoman of the Union Democratic Party, and the daughter of former Prime Minister U Nu, told RFA that the number of people who vote in the junta’s election will determine whether it was fair for the military to cancel the former election results and declare a new one.
“After the people have voted, if the election results turn out to be the same as before, that will be the answer,” she said. “We will see clearly during the election.”
Several armed resistance groups that have been fighting against junta rule have already declared that they will not support or recognize an election run by the junta, as has the NLD.
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