Burmese opposition ready to take part in next election

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will today register as a legal body so it can take part in elections, a party spokesman said, after Burma’s military-aligned government lifted a restriction that had barred her from contesting elections.

More than 100 central committee members of the National League for Democracy party will meet to make the formal decision, Nyan Win, an NLD spokesman, said.

The NLD refused to register last year mainly because a law that required imprisoned members to be expelled from the party, a clause that appeared targeted at Suu Kyi, who was then still under house arrest by the military regime.

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The NLD subsequently boycotted the November 2010 elections, which were called by the junta as part of its promise to introduce democracy.

A nominally civilian party aligned to the military won the elections and formed the government earlier this year.

It has won limited praise for instituting some political reforms.

Among them, president Thein Sein dropped the clause that had barred political prisoners from engaging in politics and amended another clause to say registered parties shall “respect and abide” by the constitution rather than “safeguard” it.

The change was evidently made to accommodate criticisms of the charter by the NLD without making it illegal.

Meanwhile, south-east Asian nations yesterday endorsed Burma – which the junta renamed Myanmar – for the chairmanship of its regional grouping in 2014, gambling that the isolated country can stick to the reforms begun this year that could lead it out of half a century of isolation.

Burma’s chairmanship of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), announced at a summit of its leaders in Bali, is a risky gambit for the regional grouping.

While the chairmanship gives Burma international recognition, it could backfire by provoking western boycotts of Asean events in 2014 if Burma’s new government backslides on reforms and fails to convince the United States and Europe to end sanctions imposed in response to abuses by its former military rulers.

Such boycotts would be an embarrassment for south-east Asia, a region of about 600 million people, at a time when it wants to be seen as a counterpoint to China’s growing influence in Asia.

“The change in Myanmar in the last six months, by Myanmar standards, is absolutely breathtaking,” said Hal Hill, a professor of south-east Asian economies at the Australian National University.

“But has Myanmar reformed enough to satisfy the Europeans and the Americans?

“At the moment, not yet. It is very promising but it is not yet embedded and credible,” he said.

The US and EU have applauded Burma’s recent freeing of political prisoners but want deeper changes, including peace with a number of ethnic groups, before they will consider lifting sanctions that have isolated the country and driven it closer to China.

But south-east Asia has moved quickly to embrace change in the resource-rich former British colony, whose strategic location between India and China, and vast, untapped natural-gas resources, are drawing investor interest.

“Be assured that we are now growing into a democratic society,” Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to the Burmese president, told reporters in Bali.