SNAP ANALYSIS - Has Myanmar's NLD shot itself in the foot?

  • World
  • Monday, 29 Mar 2010

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Myanmar's biggest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), ruled itself out of this year's election after members voted on Monday against registering for the much-criticised poll.

The ballot of party members came six days after long-detained leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi said she "would not dream" of entering the election if the decision was hers.

The NLD has said the election process is a sham and new electoral laws are unacceptable, especially those banning political prisoners from running. The party won the last election in 1990 overwhelmingly, but the junta did not recognise the result.

Here are the possible implications of the NLD opting out:

* The decision is effectively a boycott that sends a strong message to the Burmese people, the military regime and the international community that the political process is flawed.

* The boycott, however, could backfire and marginalise the NLD, possibly leading to its dissolution. Its credibility as a pro-democracy force will be questioned now it has spurned the chance to be part of a political transition that the junta itself says will be lengthy and challenging.

* The decision may come as a disappointment to the international community, which has long painted Suu Kyi and the NLD as the people's choice and the best hope for a democratic Myanmar.

* The NLD could also be playing into the hands of the ruling generals, who see Suu Kyi and her party as the biggest threat to their grip on power. The regime has kept hundreds of NLD activists in prison and kept party offices closed for years, only allowing them to reopen this month.

* The generals will say they gave the NLD a fair chance to help run the country but the party snubbed them. The boycott could render the NLD a spent force with no political voice or mandate.

* The opt-out could, at some point, spark some kind of popular uprising if the NLD uses its influence to convince the public to oppose the election, which might lead to another deadly crackdown by the army and put the polls in jeopardy.

* The move might dent the credibility of the charismatic Suu Kyi. Long seen as a symbol of hope for the country's 48 million people, her apparent move to influence the party's stance on the polls could make her look stubborn and recalcitrant. Even if freed in November, she will be an ordinary citizen, with no party to lead and no say on how her country is run.

(Editing by Alan Raybould)

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