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Myanmar junta sets election date of November 7

From Kocha Olarn, CNN
Myanmar leader senior general Than Shwe, center, and his wife arrive to offer prayers at the Mahabodhi Temple in India on July 25.
Myanmar leader senior general Than Shwe, center, and his wife arrive to offer prayers at the Mahabodhi Temple in India on July 25.
  • The elections will be the first since 1990
  • Nobel laureate Suu Kyi is barred from taking part
  • Critics think the elections are meant to create a facade of democracy

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Myanmar will hold general elections on November 7, Myanmar National Radio announced Friday, in the military junta-led nation's first vote since 1990.

Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in those polls -- a result that the junta refused to recognize.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. Critics believe that Myanmar's announced elections are intended only 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.

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

Myanmar bars Suu Kyi's election participation

Video: A look into Myanmar

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

A Myanmar court convicted Suu Kyi, 64, in August 2009 for breaching the terms of her house arrest after American John Yettaw swam uninvited to her lakeside house in Yangon and briefly stayed there.

Her ongoing detention was extended to November 2010, and in February, a court rejected her appeal for release. Suu Kyi has spent more than 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

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 ejecting 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 (Union Solidarity and Development Party, the government-backed party) is the largest, strongest party in this country. There is no way any other political parties could compete with them."

Some NLD members opted to form a new party, called National Democratic Force.

"We think the time for campaigning is not enough, but somehow we have to overcome this challenge," said Khin Muang Swe, NDF leader based in Yangon, Myanmar. "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."

When contacted for comment, the U.N. officer in Myanmar said a statement on the issue would have to come out of the world body's New York headquarters.

Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989. The next year, her party won more than 80 percent of the legislative seats in the first free elections in the country in nearly 30 years. But the military junta disqualified Suu Kyi from serving because of her house arrest.