YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s biggest opposition party said on Monday it would not register for this year’s election, meaning Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will have no role in the military-led political process.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won the last election in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to rule, said the entire party leadership had agreed not to run.
“After a unanimous vote of the central executive committee, the NLD party has decided not to register as a political party because the election laws ... are unfair and unjust,” the party said in a statement.
The election has been widely dismissed as a sham after nearly five decades of iron-fisted army rule in the former Burma, a strategically situated but isolated country rich with resources like natural gas, timber and gems and a Southeast Asian port.
Senior party members made the decision six days after Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention, said she “would not dream” of entering if the decision was hers.
The comment was widely interpreted as a veiled instruction to party members as they prepared for a ballot on whether to run.
In comments relayed from her lawyer, Suu Kyi said the NLD was not ruined and vowed to keep up her fight for democracy.
“Registering the party under the unjust and one-sidedly drawn-up laws cannot be accepted,” she was quoted as saying.
“I would like to tell the people that I will continue working for the emergence of democracy.”
A senior party official had earlier told Reuters some members in favor of running in the election had been urged to vote otherwise to show the party was united.
Divisions had emerged in the party between advocates of a boycott and modernizers who believe the NLD would be a spent force if it did not run. However, senior NLD member Win Tin said the party would live on.
“The party will not die,” he told Reuters. “We will be among the people, our activities will not stop.”
The party faces dissolution if it refuses to register.
After the announcement, party members were in high spirits and chanted slogans to show their support for Suu Kyi, wearing T-shirts bearing her picture.
The NLD is most angered by the military junta’s restrictive election laws, which bar current and former prisoners from taking part. Many NLD members are among the 2,100 political detainees in Myanmar, the most famous of whom is Suu Kyi.
After the last election, the junta promised to hand over power to the NLD after a constitution was drafted and a probe launched into the polls. Neither happened and the NLD was never allowed to rule.
Some in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, disagreed with the NLD’s decision and said the country’s best hope for democratic change had played into the hands of the generals.
“I think the NLD has made another major policy blunder,” said a retired civil servant, who asked not to be identified.
“They’ve walked into a trap. They could have pressed on without Suu Kyi and got something out of the election.”
Experts say the junta has learned from the botched 1990 election and has drafted a constitution that ensures it will effectively remain in charge, without the need to rig the polls.
The United States and United Nations have not publicly questioned the constitution but have said the election would not be credible if political prisoners could not take part.
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jerry Norton
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