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The National League for Democracy (NLD) finds itself in a state of déjà vu. Should it run in the general election later this year, galvanizing support for its pro-democracy ideals? Or should it refuse to participate, call the election a sham, and point to the military’s refusal to loosen its grip on the country?
Last week’s parliamentary rejection of constitutional reform leaves its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, barred from running for the presidency.
The military won enough secret ballots to maintain its 25 percent veto on any legislature passing though both houses in Naypyidaw, suggesting it is not yet ready or willing to relinquish power.
Suu Kyi later said the parliament had “failed to uphold the people’s hope for change.”
While calling on her supporters to ensure the NLD wins a landslide victory at this year’s general election, the opposition party has yet to fully commit to putting itself on the ballot. It has cited irregularities on the voter lists, the lack of democracy enshrined in the current constitution, and the block on Suu Kyi from running for either the presidency or vice-presidency as motives to boycott polls.
Many observers concur that the election will not be free and fair, and say that the international embrace for President Thein Sein’s supposed programme of reform has been premature.
The NLD boycotted polls in 2010; then found itself out in the cold as a recognised parliament took hold. It finally came round to competing again in 2012 by-elections when it wiped the floor with its opponents.
Few doubt Suu Kyi’s party will win this year’s polls if its competes, though some expect the ruling USDP and ethnic parties to fare much better and win their share of seats.
The question remains for the NLD: should it boycott the polls? Or should it compete while believing that even if it wins it may still not be allowed to take power? Must it pre-empt the polls by making a deal with the USDP and the military? And what would that deal entail?
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