Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ASEAN says Myanmar must have credible elections

SINGAPORE, Feb 20 (Reuters) - An election planned by Myanmar's generals must be credible, the Association of South East Nations said on Wednesday, adding the outcome would affect all members of the 10-nation group.

Myanmar's ruling generals this month announced a referendum in May on a new constitution, to be followed by an election in 2010. If held, the poll would be the first since a 1990 election whose outcome the military ignored.

"What we are concerned about is the credibility of the process," Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo said.

"There must be provisions for independent verification and many of us expressed the view that Myanmar cannot ignore the international dimension," he told reporters after a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in the city-state.

Myanmar's military rulers will not allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take part in the proposed elections because she had been married to a foreigner, Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Yeo said his Myanmar counterpart told a regional meeting on Tuesday that the new constitution barred Suu Kyi from the polls because of her marriage to Briton Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and because their children held foreign passports, the newspaper said.

"That is hardly the definition of free and fair elections," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, traveling with President George W. Bush in Ghana. "The Junta needs to start from scratch with a real draft constitution that actually passes the laugh test," he added.

In New York, United Nations spokeswoman Marie Okabe said: "We believe that the credibility of the political process in Myanmar is going to depend on whether it is inclusive enough so that all can participate."

David Scott Mathieson, a Myanmar consultant for Human Rights Watch, said the military junta has made clear it doesn't think that Suu Kyi should have a role in national politics.

"So the past 20 years really have been a process of finding ways to exclude her from the entire process," he told Reuters Television in Thailand. "So this constitution is rigged."

ASEAN diplomats have said the group is grappling with a dilemma. Myanmar's membership to some is complicating its efforts to create an influential bloc in a globalized world, but isolating the junta could drive Myanmar further into China's embrace. ASEAN has instead opted for "engagement," calling on the junta to work with the United Nations towards democracy and release political detainees.

Myanmar's generals last held elections in 1990, but ignored after when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent more than 12 of the past 18 years under some form of detention. (Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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