UN chief urges Burma junta to allow free elections

Key nations want Burma’s government to give all people the opportunity to participate freely in upcoming elections – including political prisoners and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN chief said.

Key nations want Burma’s government to give all people the opportunity to participate freely in upcoming elections – including political prisoners and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN chief said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to reporters after a meeting of the Group of Friends of Myanmar (Burma) to discuss the country’s new electoral laws, which have been widely criticised as designed to keep Ms Suu Kyi out of the race.

The group includes about 15 countries, including Burma’s neighbours, interested Asian and European nations, and the five permanent UN Security Council members: the US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Mr Ban said the group believes inclusive elections are necessary to advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development in the country.

“The government must create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections,” Mr Ban said.

“This includes the release of all political prisoners – including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – and respect for fundamental freedoms.”

The secretary-general said it’s “frustrating and... disappointing” that the country’s military ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, moved very slowly to implement commitments he made during their meeting last July including the release of political prisoners and Ms Suu Kyi.

“Still, we are urging them to do that ... so that people of Myanmar can enjoy genuine freedom and genuine democracy,” he said.

Mr Ban said the government engaged key parties to the national reconciliation process, including Ms Suu Kyi and ethnic groups that have agreed to cease-fires, but “the electoral laws and the overall electoral environment so far do not fully measure up to what is needed for an inclusive political process”.

One of the new electoral laws prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from being a member of a political party, and instructs parties to expel convicted members or face de-registration.

Ms Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended last year after she was convicted on charges of violating the terms of her detention when an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside property.

She is serving an additional 18 months of house arrest and many top members of her party and ethnic-based parties are in prison. Under the new laws they would be barred from the vote.

Her lawyer said she is against registering her National League for Democracy party for the elections because the ruling junta’s restrictions on the vote are “unjust”.

Asked about his statement, the secretary-general said he didn’t know the circumstances in which Ms Suu Kyi made the decision.

But Mr Ban said “she is the leader of her party and when she (made) such (a) decision, then I think that should be respected”.

The elections will be the first since 1990, when the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. The junta ignored the results of that vote and kept the Nobel Peace laureate jailed or under detention for 14 of the past 20 years. No date has been set for the new election.

The elections are part of the junta’s long-announced “roadmap to democracy,” which critics deride as a sham designed to cement the power of the military which has ruled Burma since 1962.

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