Burma’s election body, the Union Electoral Commission (UEC), has been accused of intimidating the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, after warning the NLD Chairwoman, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, of violating the country’s constitution at a political rally earlier this month.
In a letter to the NLD, the UEC claimed that Chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi had made illegal and unconstitutional comments at a rally in Mandalay on May 18 where she called for the Burma Army to back constitutional reform.
According to the letter from the UEC, Suu Kyi is claimed to have said at the rally: “I want the army to prove that they wish to amend this Constitution.”
“You are speaking outside of the boundaries of the Constitution,” the letter addressed to Suu Kyi and signed by UEC Secretary Tin Tun said. The letter, sent on May 22, went on to accuse Suu Kyi of challenging the Burma Army, and that the speech went against her oath as a parliamentarian.
The NLD responded by condemning EUC’s letter claiming it misquoted Aung San Suu Kyi and denied that her speech went against the constitution.
“We announce that the UEC’s intervention warning is inappropriate,” the NLD said in an official statement, “We are just doing as it is stated in the Constitution: Any political party can stage a rally freely as long as it’s in accordance with the law.”
The NLD maintained that the UEC had misquoted Suu Kyi.
“The correct wording is ‘Our army has to face the reality and say ‘we will amend the Constitution legally for the good of people,’” the NLD said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch criticized the UEC over its letter claiming that the Commission was hounding the political opposition.
“It’s truly scandalous that the electoral commission is threatening a political party for violating a regulation that doesn’t exist,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said, “It’s even worse that the threat is about a political speech on the future direction of the country.”
The NLD alongside the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, have launched a joint campaign calling for reform to Burma’s 2008 constitution, that human rights groups claim was ‘voted-in’ by the use of a “sham” referendum.
Two articles in the 2008 Constitution have sparked outrage in particular: Article 436, which grants the military 25 percent of seats in parliament, and therefore an effective veto of power, and Article 59(f) which effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency because it prohibits elected members of parliament from becoming
president if they have relatives with foreign citizenship – Suu Kyi’s two children have British citizenship.
HRW said that the chairman of the UEC, former Burma Army General Tin Aye, had revealed his “pro-military bias” in the past.
“In April, he defended the constitutional provision guaranteeing 25 percent of parliamentary seats to serving military officers, claiming the quota was needed to avert any future coup. He also promised that the 2015 elections would be free and fair, but would be conducted in ‘disciplined democracy style,’ using rhetoric closely associated with past Burmese military governments,” HRW said.
The electoral commission was also criticized for its release a series of draft regulations in April, which if enacted, would seriously inhibit the rights to freedom of speech and movement. The proposals include requiring parties to provide information to UEC officials with details of proposed speaking venues, rally and march routes, and lists of planned participants in advance. The proposals also include prohibiting party leaders or members from campaigning in constituencies outside their home district, a proposal seen directly aimed at Suu Kyi as it would prohibit her from canvassing support across Burma.
“How President Thein Sein and the Burmese government respond to the proposals for arbitrary limits on campaigning and to reasonable demands for constitutional reform will tell the world whether they are interested in free and fair elections or are trying to rig the process,” Mr. Adams said. “Future elections will not have an ounce of
credibility if anti-democratic rules put opposition parties at a disadvantage.”