Burmese election law requires NLD to expel Aung San Suu Kyi

New law prohibits parties taking part in this year's election from having members with a court conviction

Burma's military government is to force Aung San Suu Kyi's political party to expel her if it wants to participate in the upcoming election, under the terms of a new law announced today.

The political parties registration law, published in official newspapers, requires the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other parties to re-register within 60 days with a new election commission.

It prohibits anyone convicted by a court from joining a political party, and instructs parties to expel members who are "not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party". Parties that do not register automatically cease to exist, the law says.

The Nobel peace prize winner, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, was convicted last August of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence. She was sentenced to a new term of house arrest that is due to end in November.

The sentence was seen as a way to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during the election campaign. Last month, the supreme court dismissed her latest appeal for freedom.

The new election law was immediately criticised by the NLD and by the US and Britain. The NLD's deputy chairman, Tin Oo, called the law unfair, politically motivated and designed to restrict activities of the party, which has already been battered by arrests and harassment.

"The fact that [party] registration will be allowed only after expulsion of a convicted member is too much. This is politically motivated," he said.

The junta enacted five election-related laws on Monday, two of which have now been made public. Three more are to be unveiled in the coming days.

The US assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell said Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest so she could "play an active role in the political life of the country going forward".

"We've seen the first of five [laws]. I think it would be fair to say that what we've seen so far is disappointing and regrettable," Campbell said during a visit to Malaysia.

The date of the election has not been announced, and the NLD has not said whether it will take part. The government announced in 2008 that the election would take place in 2010. The last election in 1990 was won overwhelmingly by the NLD but the military refused to hand over power.

Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyer, Nyan Win, said the new law also barred people who had lodged an appeal against a conviction, which he said "clearly refers" to his client.

Aung Thein, a lawyer who has defended activists in the country, said: "It is very unfair that a party member serving a prison term for his or her political convictions has to be expelled from the party. This clause amounts to interfering in party internal affairs."

He said the provision would exclude many pro-democracy individuals who had been imprisoned for their beliefs. Human rights groups say the junta has jailed about 2,100 political prisoners.

It was widely assumed that Aung San Suu Kyi would be shut out since a provision in the constitution bars anyone with foreign ties from taking part in elections. Her late husband was British, her two sons have British citizenship, and she has been described by the junta as enjoying special links with Britain.

"We're going to need to study the election laws carefully once they've all been released," said the British ambassador, Andrew Heyn. "But it's regrettable and very disappointing that the laws are not based on a dialogue with a range of political opinion."

He stressed that the release of political prisoners, freedom for all to participate in the elections, freedom to campaign and access to media were essential for the election to be credible.

Staff and agencies

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