A new law, issued just days before the end of a two-year nationwide state of emergency imposed after Myanmar’s military coup, has placed a high bar on the registration of political parties ahead of a general election the junta has planned for 2023.
Approved by junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing last week, the law drew immediate condemnation from leaders of political parties that won the country’s 2020 election, annulled by the junta after the Feb. 1, 2021 coup. They said the restrictions would ensure the military faces no legitimate competition in the upcoming polls.
Under the new law, parties that hope to compete in national elections will be required to have at least 100,000 members and a war chest of at least 100 million kyats (U.S.$45,000). Those that plan to take part in state or regional elections will be required to have at least 1,000 members and 10 million kyats (U.S.$4,500) in funds.
All political parties that plan to participate in the 2023 election are also required to re-register within 60 days of the law’s enactment. Those that fail to do so will automatically lose their legal status.
The previous law, approved by former junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe in 2010, required parties taking part in national elections to have at least 1,000 members and those joining state and regional elections to have at least 500 members within three months of having registered.
Sai Laik, the general secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy said that under the new restrictions, the only party that will be able to compete in the general election will be the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party.
“All the other parties are so restricted that they won’t be able to compete on an equal footing,” he said.
“The new law is intentionally fabricated to allow only one party to be in place.”
He said his party will meet to discuss whether it will register as a political entity under the new law.
The junta’s new law also prohibits organizations that have been declared illegal or terrorist groups, as well as organizations accused of having committed terrorist acts against the state and the organizations that support them either directly or indirectly, from registering as political parties.
Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political analyst, said that the new law is a deliberate attempt to restrict the deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the shadow National Unity Government and anti-junta People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups from taking part in the election.
“They are planning to exclude people who are rebelling against them from participating in the election,” he said.
“The new restrictions are their attempt to pave a political path for the dictator with only the people who either support him or do not oppose him.”
Ethnic parties ‘facing crisis’
Another requirement of the new law is that political parties must contest at least half of all constituencies, compared to at least three under the previous law.
Political analysts told RFA that the requirement is designed to prevent small parties from entering the election, as they must compete in at least 580 constituencies.
Saw Than Myint, chairman of the Federal Union Party, said the new requirements for party membership make it nearly impossible for small ethnic parties to take part in the election.
“It is very difficult for us to obtain 100,000 party members in the current political situation, given the lack of rule of law, peace and stability across the country,” he said.
“According to the new law, we must open offices in at least 165 townships – something that is nearly impossible for us.”
Thar Tun Hla, chairman of the Arakan National Party, a powerful ethnic party, said that most of the more than 90 registered political parties will face difficulties under the new requirements.
“Since this law was issued, ethnic parties in Myanmar, including ours, are facing a crisis and difficulty in organizing for the entire country,” he said.
Attempts by RFA to reach Union Solidarity Development Party spokesman Hla Thein went unanswered Friday.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA that the requirement that political parties entering the general election have 100,000 party members is “reasonable” and “in accordance with the 2008 [military-drafted] Constitution.”
He acknowledged that only a few of the more than 90 registered political parties will be able to take part in the general election, but said the new law was “designed to unite them politically.”
‘A sham election’
Kyaw Htwe, a member of the National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee, dismissed the new law as an attempt by the junta to gain political legitimacy and ensure the upcoming election results in a win for the military.
“They are worried that they would lose the election, as they know the people do not accept them,” he said.
“That’s why they carefully included restrictions in the new law to make it impossible for a new political party to participate … This will be a sham election designed to deceive the people and the international community for their own legitimacy and pre-planned result.”
The new law on political parties came into effect amid a cooling of tensions between the military and ethnic armies in northern Shan state, with fighting between the two sides having ended on Jan. 15.
Analysts told RFA the detente is likely because the junta is focusing on negotiating with ethnic groups ahead of the election.
“The fact that there is no fighting in northern Shan state suggests that the military council is trying to hold an election for the whole of Shan state,” said Aik Maung, an ethnic affairs analyst.
“We can see that the military is trying to reconcile with ethnic armed groups active in Shan state. In my opinion, the military is going to respond offensively to the organizations that deny their offer.”
Other analysts suggested that the ethnic armies in northern Shan state are willing to suspend hostilities because most of them are China-backed and observing the Jan. 22 Lunar New Year.
While the junta has yet to announce a date for this year’s election, a stipulation within the 2008 Constitution requires that they be held within six months of the second anniversary of the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.