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U.N. critical of Myanmar election process

By Shruti Pant and Richard Roth, CNN
Posters bearing images of Myanmar junta leader General Than Shwe are pierced onto the main gate of the Myanmar Embassy during a protest in New Delhi on March 19, 2010, held to denounce Myanmar's recently announced election law.
Posters bearing images of Myanmar junta leader General Than Shwe are pierced onto the main gate of the Myanmar Embassy during a protest in New Delhi on March 19, 2010, held to denounce Myanmar's recently announced election law.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.N. members are unhappy with junta's lack of progress toward fair, transparent election
  • Recent electoral laws disqualify anyone serving a prison term from joining a political party
  • Laws mean pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi barred from participation
  • The date of Myanmar's general election has yet to be published
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United Nations (CNN) -- Key U.N. member countries are not pleased with Myanmar despite the Asian nation's plan to hold its first general elections in 20 years.

The so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, an informal collection of 14 countries and the European Union, are unhappy with the ruling military junta's lack of progress toward establishing a fair and transparent election process.

"It is frustrating and disappointing that we have not seen the progress we expected," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who chaired a meeting of the group.

"The current electoral laws do not measure up to what is needed," said Ban, who spoke on behalf of the nations present at the meeting.

On his last visit to the impoverished nation in July 2009, the U.N. chief explained that Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe had made several commitments to him, one of which was publishing electoral laws.

However, "the current electoral laws do not measure up to what is needed," he said.

The recently published electoral laws disqualify anyone serving a prison term from joining a political party, including Aung San Suu Kyi , pro-democracy activist and leader of Myanmar's opposition party the National Democratic Front. Suu Kyi is in her fourteenth year under house arrest despite protests by human rights activists.

The group stressed the need for elections to be "participatory and transparent" and called for "the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi," explained Ban.

Britain, a member of the group, has voiced particular concern with Myanmar's new electoral laws. On the eve of the Group of Friends meeting, Britain called for Security Council consultations to discuss the issue.

The British ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said Wednesday that the consultations were the first time the United Nations had taken stock of Myanmar, also known as Burma, since July last year.

Grant disagreed with his Chinese counterpart, Li Baodong, who called for respecting Myanmar's sovereignty and respecting its election as a domestic matter.

"We do not agree with that," Grant said. "Burma is an item on the agenda, and the instability that could be caused by a flawed electoral process is a threat to international peace and security,"

Despite frustrations and divisions over Myanmar between U.N. member states, Ban stressed that one of the poorest countries in the world -- ruled for close to five decades by a military junta -- will only change "gradually and slowly."

The date of Myanmar's general election has yet to be published.