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U.N. calls for fair vote as Myanmar announces election date

From Kocha Olarn, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.N. secretary-general calls on government to ensure "free and fair" vote
  • NEW: Ban Ki-moon calls for release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners
  • Myanmar will hold general elections on November 7
  • The nation formerly known as Burma has been under military rule since 1962

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "free and fair" vote in Myanmar as the country's state media announced a date for the first election in 20 years.

State media reported Friday that general elections will be held on November 7.

A statement from Ban noted the announcement and asked that Myanmar's government uphold previous promises to hold "inclusive" elections.

"As essential steps for any national reconciliation and democratic transition process, the secretary-general strongly urges the authorities to ensure that fundamental freedoms are upheld for all citizens of Myanmar," the statement said.

He also asked that the government "release all remaining political prisoners without delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country."

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. She was first placed under house arrest in 1989. A year later, in 1990, her party won a landslide victory that the military junta refused to recognize. Elections have not been held in the country since then.

In August 2009, her house arrest was extended after American John Yettaw swam uninvited to her house in Yangon and briefly stayed there. A Myanmar court convicted Suu Kyi of breaching the terms of her house arrest and extended her detention through November 2010. It is set to expire just a few days after the general election.

The junta recently announced an election law that bars Suu Kyi from taking part in the upcoming race.

The Political Parties Registration Law, announced in state newspapers, excludes electoral participation by any member of a political party who has been convicted in court.

Her supporters have said the conviction was a way to remove her from the election campaign.

The new law forced Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, to choose between honoring her as its leader and risking the party being declared illegal, or removing Suu Kyi from the party and contesting the election. The party's central committee decided to boycott the race.

"Everything is just so convenient for the regime since the NLD is out, Suu Kyi is not running," Aung Zaw said. "Plus USDP [The Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is government-backed] is the largest, strongest party in this country. There is no way any other political parties could compete with them."

Some National League for Democracy members opted to form a new party called the National Democratic Force.

"We think the time for campaigning is not enough, but somehow we have to overcome this challenge," said Khin Muang Swe, a party leader based in Yangon. "So far we are not facing any intimidation yet, as we have legally registered our party, and the government allows us to travel to meet with our party members all over the country. But we are not allowed to campaign yet, only to meet with our party members."

The nation formerly known as Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Critics said the upcoming elections announced by the Myanmar National Radio aim to create a facade of democracy.

"There is no illusion about freedom and fairness in this election, but it is more about how credible the election could be, how the U.N., ASEAN and other international organizations recognize the result of this election," said Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy magazine and an expert on Myanmar based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.