Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States have expressed concern over the Myanmar military’s dissolution of the country’s former ruling party, warning the move could bring further instability to the violence-wracked country.
The statements of concern on Wednesday came a day after the Myanmar military disbanded Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and 39 other parties over their failure to meet a deadline to register for an election that is set to extend the army’s grip on power.
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No date has been set for the election.
The NLD has repeatedly ruled out running in the poll, calling it illegitimate.
“We are seriously concerned that the exclusion of the NLD from the political process will make it even more difficult to improve the situation,” Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Japan strongly urges Myanmar to immediately release NLD officials, including Suu Kyi, and to show a path toward a peaceful resolution of the issue in a manner that includes all parties concerned.”
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military could not immediately be reached for comment. The military regime’s leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday urged international critics to get behind his efforts to restore democracy.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military coup that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, upending a decade of tentative democracy.
Myanmar’s security forces have killed more than 3,000 people in a bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters, giving rise to an armed struggle against military rule. More than a million people have been displaced by fighting, according to the United Nations.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, who the military arrested during the coup, is serving a 33-year term in prison after being convicted on various charges and dozens of her NLD allies are also in jail or have fled.
‘Assault on freedoms’
US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that Washington “strongly condemns” the decision to abolish 40 political parties.
“Any election without the participation of all stakeholders in Burma would not be and can not be considered free or fair,” Patel said, using the Southeast Asian nation’s former name.
The UK’s foreign office criticised the dissolution of the NLD and other parties as an “assault on the rights and freedoms” of the Myanmar people.
“We condemn the military regime’s politically motivated actions and their use of increasingly brutal tactics to sow fear and repress opposition,” a foreign office spokesperson said.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was seriously concerned about a further narrowing of political space in Myanmar due to tough election registration requirements. It said all stakeholders should be allowed to participate in the political process and warned their exclusion could lead to further violence and instability.
“We will continue to closely monitor the regime’s actions, and call for the restoration of democracy including credible elections,” it said in a statement.
The dissolution of the NLD comes as the military lays the groundwork for a future election, including updating voter lists. Teams collecting civil data for voter lists have already come under attack from resistance forces, which loosely pledge allegiance to a parallel government set by deposed NLD legislators, known as the National Unity Government.
More than a dozen individuals from such teams have been killed, according to the Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
Given the widespread opposition to the election, the Crisis Group on Tuesday warned that the planned elections, which may take place by November, are likely to be “the bloodiest in the country’s recent history”.
“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,” said Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar at Crisis Group.
“To prevent this escalation, western and regional actors must send a concerted message that polls are illegitimate, and withhold electoral support; while the parallel National Unity Government should unambiguously oppose resistance attacks on electoral targets.”