Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy faces the prospect of dissolution after it refused to comply with a tough new party registration law imposed by Myanmar’s military junta.
The military, which seized power in a coup in February 2021, set Tuesday as a deadline for political parties to re-register under a restrictive new law. It has promised to hold an election, though such a vote has been widely dismissed as lacking in any credibility.
Military rule is strongly opposed by the public, and much of the country is engulfed in civil war as a determined armed resistance seeks to overthrow the generals.
Tun Myint, the secretary of the Yangon Region executive committee, said the National League for Democracy (NLD) would not register with election authorities as such bodies had been established by the “illegitimate military council”.
“To be clear, any election process that elevates the chief of defence, Min Aung Hlaing, to the position of President Min Aung Hlaing through phoney elections will not be recognised by us, and we will oppose it at all costs,” he said.
“The demands of the people are to overthrow the military dictatorship, establish federal democracy, and ensure that there is no military influence in Myanmar’s democracy going forward,” said Tun Myint.
The public voted overwhelmingly for the NLD in 2020 but the military refused to accept the results and seized power months later, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and others. The military alleged electoral fraud, a claim independent observers have rejected.
In a speech on Monday to mark armed forces day, the junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces have been accused of systemic abuses against civilians since the coup, called opposition resistance groups “terrorists”. Such groups were “trying to devastate the country and kill the people”, he said.
Min Aung Hlaing said that “lawful actions will be decisively taken” against such groups, with martial law increasingly imposed in “important townships that need to be controlled”.
Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar for Crisis Group, said that national elections “are likely to be the bloodiest in the country’s recent history” if imposed by force by the military.
“The majority of the population fiercely oppose going to the polls to legitimise the military’s political control, so we will see violence ratchet up if the regime seeks to impose a vote, and resistance groups seek to disrupt them,” Horsey said in a statement. “To prevent this escalation, western and regional actors must send a concerted message that polls are illegitimate, and withhold electoral support,” he said.
The national unity government, which was set up by elected politicians and activists to oppose the junta, should unambiguously oppose attacks on electoral targets by resistance groups, Horsey added.
A report released by Crisis Group on Tuesday warned the regime was using the polls as a pretext for intensifying its counter-insurgency operations.
The new registration law imposed by the junta requires national parties to fulfil various criteria, including recruiting 100,000 members within 90 days of registration – far more than the previous requirement of 1,000 members. Parties must also open offices in at least half of all 330 townships within 180 days, contest at least half of all constituencies, and hold funds of 100m kyat.
The 2021 military coup has plunged Myanmar into chaos, with conflict spreading to areas of the country that were once peaceful, and military airstrikes occurring on an almost daily basis. Education and health services have collapsed, and an estimated 17.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance – up from 1 million before the coup.
More than 17,000 political prisoners remain in detention, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison.
According to the NLD, 80 elected members of parliament and 1,232 NLD party members have been detained in prisons throughout Myanmar. Two elected members of parliament and 84 NLD party members have been killed, while the properties of hundreds of politicians and party members have been seized.
When asked if Aung San Suu Kyi had commented about the upcoming election run by the regime through her lawyers or other members of the party, Tun Myint said they did not have contact with her.