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US Blames Burmese Government for Opposition Election Boycott

The U.S. State Department on Monday blamed Burma's military government for the opposition's decision to boycott upcoming elections. The United States called the situation in Burma "disappointing," but added that Washington will continue its efforts to engage Rangoon.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the United States "understands and respects the decision" by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, or NLD, to not to participate in elections that are expected to be held later this year.

Crowley called the situation "regrettable." He pointed to the military government's unwillingness to open up the political process to key figures and various ethnic groups in Burma as the reason for the NLD's decision to withdraw.

"We think that that this is an opportunity lost in terms of Burma's ability to demonstrate that it is willing to contemplate a different course of action, a different relationship with its own people and other groups within its own borders," said Philip Crowley.

The United States calls Burma's election rules a "mockery" of the democratic process. Many other countries have criticized Rangoon's election planning as deeply flawed and unfair.

Crowley said the U.S. government will continue to reach out to Burmese leaders, despite Rangoon's decision on the course of the elections.

Burma's election laws prohibit registered parties from having criminals in their ranks. The NLD's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under detention for 14 of the last 20 years, and many of her party's officials have been held as political prisoners.

The election laws also require parties to swear allegiance to the 2008 Constitution, which guarantees the military a quarter of parliamentary seats regardless of election results.

The NLD's announcement on Monday to boycott the elections, came after more than 100 members of the party gathered at its Rangoon headquarters. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, had urged the NLD not to participate in the voting, saying that the election laws are unjust.

David Steinberg, a Burma expert at Georgetown University here in Washington, says the NLD might split because of the decision it was forced to make.

"The NLD was in a very very difficult position because either to participate means that they intentionally gave up their claim to legitimacy based upon the May 1990 elections, but to not to participate means that they are moved to the political periphery," said David Steinberg.

The National League for Democracy won Burma's last elections in 1990, but the military refused to give up power. Burma's government has yet to announce a date for the upcoming elections.

Steinberg says he believes the military government is prepared to have opposition members in its new legislature. But he notes that those voices will not be able to control critical issues the country faces.

Steinberg says the Burmese government needs the opposition to boost its credibility at home and abroad.

"Just the fact of the NLD not being in it [i.e., the elections] does not mean there will not be other opposition parties,"he said. "They are already being formed as we speak here, and how credible they will be and how successful they will be, will be a question."

According to Burma's election rules, all political parties have until the first week of May to register. If they do not, they will be dissolved.