Myanmar’s ousted opposition party – once led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now jailed – refused to re-register under a new law imposed by the ruling military junta ahead of general elections likely to be held later this year, two National League of Democracy officials told Radio Free Asia on Monday.
The law, enacted on Jan. 26, requires all political parties that wish to contest in the election to re-register within 60 days. If they fail to comply, the parties will be automatically disqualified.
The law appears to be aimed at preventing the National League for Democracy, which had won November 2020 elections but were then thrown out of power by the military in a February 2021 coup, from fielding candidates – and allow the junta to maintain its rule under the guise of holding elections.
“The NLD party is not going to re-register under their new law nor does it recognize their planned election,” said Nay Zin Lat, a opposition lawmaker from Sagaing region, who is now sheltering in an undisclosed location.
“We don’t recognize their election commission either because we do not believe that it’s going to become a free and fair election in any way,” he told Radio Free Asia.
Killed, arrested or driven into hiding
Even if it were to participate in an election, it will be difficult for the NLD to continue as a major party because the junta has arrested most of its top leaders, killed others and forced the remainder to flee to safety.
It has jailed Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint on multiple charges. Other party leaders have gone into hiding or exile, from where they operate a shadow government called the National Unity Government, or NUG.
As of the end of January, 84 NLD members, including three lawmakers, have been killed in the two years since the military coup, according to the party’s Human Rights Record Group. Of that total figure, 59 were indiscriminately killed, 16 died during interrogation, eight died in prison, and one was sentenced to death and executed.
In all, junta authorities have arrested 1,232 party members nationwide, including members of parliament. They have confiscated the assets and properties of 371 party members, including 206 lawmakers.
The military has also destroyed party offices and confiscated property inside, said veteran attorney Kyee Myint. Yet the military will not seize the party headquarters so as not to embarrass itself among the international community, he said.
“They will not attack the NLD any more as the only important thing for them now is to hold their election successfully to be able to appoint Min Aung Hlaing as the president,” he said, referring to the senior general who leads the junta.
On Feb. 1, the second anniversary of the coup, the military regime announced it was extending the state of emergency, delaying elections the junta previously said it would hold by August, because of ongoing fighting with anti-regime forces throughout Myanmar.
Not a new challenge
The junta’s threat to dissolve the party if it did not re-register under the law was not a new challenge, said Nay Zin Lat. The NLD has not been pressured by it as it experienced similar threats from the military for years following a military crackdown in 1988,
On Aug. 8 of that year, the military forcefully ended nationwide demonstrations by unarmed civilians demanding democratic change. The NLD was formed on Sept. 27 under the leadership of Suu Kyi and former military officers.
Tun Aung Kyaw, a member of the policy committee of the Arakan National Party, said it would be a great loss for Myanmar’s people if the NLD did not re-register under the law and was subsequently dissolved.
“If a leading party supported by the majority of the people in Myanmar which can politically represent the power of the people is dissolved, then it would be a great pity and a great loss for the people,” he said. “They will lose sight of a political path that they want to take if the party leading them disappears.”
But political analyst Than Soe Naing said that the future of the NLD does not hinge only on the junta’s election.
“The future of the NLD is tied to the future of the Spring Revolution led by the Nation Unity Government,” he said, referring to the local name for the protests in Myanmar staged in opposition to the coup led by Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief.
“If the Spring Revolution wins, the NLD party will be back on Myanmar’s political stage,” Than Soe Naing said. “Before then, there will be no representative who is courageous enough to stand on the election stage holding the NLD party flag.”
Tun Myint, a member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee who now resides in an undisclosed location for safety reasons, said a major party like the NLD would continue to survive as long as the people supported it, no matter how much the junta tries to suppress it.
“As our leader used to say, no matter how hard they try to destroy the party, it will stand as long as the people support it,” he said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi. “I don’t even have a slightest doubt that the NLD will survive and continue to exist for the people.”
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