Burma excludes foreign journalists from poll coverage

FOREIGN journalists will not be allowed into Burma to cover the military-ruled country’s first election in 20 years, election officials said yesterday, issuing the latest restriction for an election widely criticised as a sham.

The Election Commission said there was no need to grant visas for foreign reporters because there are local reporters in the country who work for foreign media. The commission also reiterated it was “not necessary” for foreign observers to monitor the elections.

The ruling military junta has billed the election as a key step toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Critics say oppressive rules governing campaigning, the repression of the main opposition party, and other elements ensure that the army will continue its commanding influence.

“Representatives in Yangon who are working for foreign media can cover the elections and no foreign journalists will be allowed,” Election Commission chairman Thein Soe told diplomats and Burma-based media at its first election briefing held in the junta’s remote capital, Naypyitaw.

There are 25 officially registered “foreign correspondents” in Burma, mostly nationals who work for 17 foreign news media outlets. The only two foreigners are Chinese nationals working for Chinese media.

On election day, November 7, authorities will “arrange a tour” for diplomats and UN agencies in the country, said the commission chairman, a retired major general who also served as deputy chief justice.

“Since these diplomats represent their respective countries, there is no need to invite foreign observers,” Thein Soe said.

Under election laws, outsiders including reporters will not be allowed to enter polling stations and take photographs “to enable voters to vote in privacy,” Thein Soe said.

Burma’s last election was in 1990. Foreign media were allowed into the country to cover those polls, which resulted in a landslide win for the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta refused to recognise the results and has kept Suu Kyi locked away in prison or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years.


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