Political Party Bill Goes to Parliament

By WAI MOE Friday, October 7, 2011 | Irrawaddy

Burma’s pro-democracy parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), could soon be granted the opportunity to legitimatize themselves once again as the country's Upper House discusses a bill to amend the Political Parties Registration Law—a move that many observers see as yet another positive step toward national reconciliation.

According to state-run The New Light of Myanmar on Thursday, a member of the Union Election Commission, Myint Naing, submitted a proposal to the House on Wednesday to discuss the Bill Amending Political Parties Registration Law at the ongoing parliament session. The motion was seconded by another MP, and the Upper House, known in Burmese as Amyotha Hluttaw, subsequently approved the proposal.

“The Hluttaw announced that those who want to discuss the bill are to enlist at the Amyotha Hluttaw Department not later than 10 October,” The New Light of Myanmar (NLM) reported.

The proposal suggests three significant changes to the Political Parties Registration Law: the clause titled “Preservation of the Constitution" will be replaced by "Respect and Obedience of the Constitution.” Secondly, the clause in Section 10 of the act which prohibits “anyone convicted by a court of law from joining a political party” will be removed.

The third suggested amendment—arguably the most significant— would scrap the current law that maintains that, to be recognized, each political party must have contested a minimum of three seats in the previous general election. The bill proposes that the article be amended to state that a political party must have contested at least three constituencies in by-elections.

“This clause would open the doors for parties such as the NLD which did not contest the 2010 elections,” said a lawyer in Rangoon.

Both President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi emerged from their meeting on Aug. 19 tight-lipped about the details of their talks, saying only that they were “satisfied” with the meeting. It now appears clear to most Burma watchers that the amendment of the Political Parties Registration Law must have been high on their agenda.

According to NLM, following a subsequent rendezvous at a government guesthouse in Rangoon on Aug. 30, Aung Kyi, the Minister for Labor and Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, told reporters: “We welcome NLD to work in cooperation with as ever after it registered in accord with the law [sic].”

In March 2010, the NLD decided not to register as a political party for the November 2010 elections, saying that the election laws were unfair and that one clause effectively barred Suu Kyi from participating—Section 10. At the time, Suu Kyi was under house arrest, convicted for violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside residence.

But the political landscape in Burma is suddenly and markedly different from March 2010— Suu Kyi is out of detention; she has held what appear to have been constructive negotiations with Thein Sein and other government officials; and much talk has circulated that political prisoners will soon be released.

The international community, including the US government, has noted positively the steps taken by Naypyidaw, and several international observers have said that recognition of the NLD would go a long way in convincing the world that the new Burmese government was sincere in its bid to pursue democratic reform.

“If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues on this path [of party registration], I guess many other parties will also go mainstream,” said a diplomat source in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for the NLD, Ohn Kyaing, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the party will wait until it sees the amendment to the party registration law when it is unveiled in Parliament in the coming days before it meets to decide whether the NLD would re-register.

“An amendment could take some time, as the proposal must first get passed by the Upper House and then the Lower House before it gets passed to the President's Office,” he said. “Only after that, and when we see the amended laws, can we think about registration.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has always said that the NLD must go forward as a legal entity,” he added.

Speculation has also spread among Rangoon’s political community that other NLD allies, such as the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), may follow suit.

“Regarding the party's registration, the ALD has not decided yet,” said party leader Aye Thar Aung. The ALD won a majority of seats in Arakan State in the 1990 elections, but refused to participate in the 2010 election.

“Not only must there be an amendment of party registration laws, but three other key issues must be addressed,” he said. “National reconciliation in Burma: the unconditional release of political prisoners; and an end to armed conflict in ethnic areas.”

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