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Burma's Military Government to Hold November 7 Election

The voting will be the first since 1990

Burma's military government has set November 7 as the date for parliamentary elections, the first in 20 years. But pro-democracy groups and political analysts have doubts over its legitimacy.

The November elections will be for 330 civilian seats in the 440-member House of Representatives. Under the constitution adopted last year, military personnel will be appointed to the remaining seats. In the 224-seat House of Nationalities, 168 will be elected, and 56 held by the armed forces.

Limited participation

Several political parties will not take part in the elections, chief among them is the National League for Democracy, which won the last election in 1990. The military never allowed it to take power and has kept NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi under detention for most of the years since.

Aung San Suu Kyi's current detention ends in late November. Debbie Stothardt, with the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network, says the election's timing is no coincidence.

"The timing of the election seems to be focused on Aung San Suu Kyi's release date," Stothardt said. "Therefore, they're having the elections about a week before she can be freed to participate. It is pretty clear that most people in the country and outside expect the election to have a pre-determined result."

Election rules

The election rules require political parties to expel members who are in prison. The NLD chose not to expel Aung San Suu Kyi and other members jailed for their political activities, so it could not take part in the vote.

Naing Aung, general secretary of the Forum for Democracy in Burma, says doubts remain over the vote's legitimacy since the military will hold so many parliament seats.

"This announcement shows that the regime's uncompromising stance and avoiding the solution to have the political dialogue for the November election," Naing Aung said. "Everyone in the international community knows that this election is not free and fair and credible. "

International pressure

Burma, however, may remain under pressure from the international community. In July, Southeast Asian foreign ministers, in a rare move, urged Burma to ensure the elections are free and fair.

Some registered parties have complained about intimidation by security forces. Candidates say they face restrictions on campaigning, and that the election commission favors the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The military has long maintained that it must dominate Burma's political scene to control separatist movements by ethnic minority groups. But many other governments, including the United States and most of Europe, have imposed sanctions on the government because of its human rights abuses and political repression.