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Updated: March 30, 2010 14:48 IST

Mixed reaction to Myanmar opposition party boycott

AP
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Mr. Tin Oo, deputy leader of the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, talks to journalists at the party's headquarters on Monday in Yangon. Photo: AP.
Mr. Tin Oo, deputy leader of the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, talks to journalists at the party's headquarters on Monday in Yangon. Photo: AP.

Many Myanmar residents on Tuesday greeted a decision by the party of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to boycott elections with rousing approval while others called it a blunder leaving voters with little option in the military—organized balloting.

In a bold gamble, the National League for Democracy on Monday decided to opt out of the country’s first election in two decades, following the lead of the detained Nobel Prize laureate who had earlier denounced the laws guiding the election as undemocratic.

The decision, approved by an unanimous vote of the 113 executive members, spotlights the question of the polls’ credibility. The NLD won the most parliamentary seats in the last election in 1990, whose results the military refused to honour.

“It is devastating that the NLD has chosen to boycott the election. Who should I vote for when the election comes?” said a 46—year—old university teacher Myint Myint Thein.

Some Myanmar experts echoed such opinion.

“The NLD will now disappear from history and the (ruling military council) will proceed as intended,” said Robert Taylor, an author and Myanmar scholar.

But others approved of the decision.

“(Suu Kyi) is our icon and our leader and she is the only person who can reflect the feelings of the public. We are with her and we support her decision,” said a 55—year—old nurse, Khin Zaw.

The NLD earlier denounced the election laws, noting their provisions would bar Ms. Suu Kyi from participating, or even being a member of the party she helped found 22 years ago in the wake of a failed popular uprising against military rule.

“We will continue to pursue, through peaceful means, democracy and human rights with support, understanding and assistance from the people, ethnic nationalities and democratic forces,” said party vice- chairman Tin Oo.

Although the boycott will probably mean the end of the NLD since parties who fail to register for the election are to be dissolved, the boycott could also undermine the junta’s claims that the election represents a step forward in its “roadmap for democracy.”

“The majority of the people will follow the decision because of their deep respect for (Suu Kyi), and the legitimacy and credibility of the elections will be thoroughly undermined,” said Thakin Chan Tun, a retired ambassador and veteran politician.

The election date has yet to be announced, and the line-up of the contesting parties is still unclear. But it appears the military will field a party against a number of small ones, some of them pro—military.

“I think the NLD has made a major blunder by not contesting in the election. We are all set to vote for NLD candidates and now we are left without any choice,” said Mie Mie, a jewelry shop owner.

Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, general—secretary of the recently formed Democratic Party, said the best way to serve the people and country was to get as many opposition seats as possible in the new parliament.

Earlier, Win Tin, a veteran party member, described Monday’s decision as a “life—or—death issue.” While saying that if the party did not register it would be “without legs and limbs,” he argued that NLD members would maintain their democratic ideals and thus carry the movement forward.

The reaction of the international community, which has already expressed doubt over the fairness of the polls, could be crucial in determining whether the election will proceed smoothly. The junta hopes holding the vote will ease pressure for political reforms and accommodation with the country’s pro—democracy movement.

At the same time, the party risks being further marginalized. It has been the focal point for opposition to military rule, even though it has faced fierce repression. If it loses its status as a legal party, it may face tighter restrictions.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that U.S. officials “understand and respect” the NLD decision. “This is a reflection of the unwillingness of the government in Burma to take what we thought were the necessary steps to open up the political process and to engage in serious dialogue,” Mr. Crowley said.

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