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Myanmar bans parties from criticizing army in state media

Myanmar pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to the media as she attends a Parliament meeting at the Lower House of Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

August 29, 2015

YANGON - Myanmar has banned political parties from criticizing the army or the military-dominated constitution in state media during campaigning for elections seen as a test of the country's transition from military rule.

The parties standing in the Nov. 8 elections will be allowed to broadcast 15-minute speeches on state television and radio, according to a statement by the Union Election Commission, and publish them in state-owned newspapers.

But the addresses will be vetted by the commission and the Ministry of Information and could be rejected if officials find that they violate the rules.

Statements "that can split the Tatmadaw or that can disgrace and damage the dignity the Tatmadaw," are banned, said the commission, using the term for the Myanmar military.

Parties should also not "disrespect" the 2008 constitution, which reserves 25 percent of parliament and key cabinet posts for the military, giving it an effective veto over politics.

The constitution also bars presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child, effectively preventing Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. Suu Kyi's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD), expected to win the elections, struck a defiant tone in response to the commission's guidelines.

"We are not afraid," said Win Htein, a member of the NLD's top governing body and one of those responsible for its campaign. "We will continue to criticize whoever we want and however we want."

After ruling for 49 years, the military in 2011 established a semi-civilian government, freed hundreds of political prisoners and opened up the economy.

The announcement by the election commission comes less than three weeks after President Thein Sein ousted the powerful chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Shwe Mann.

The United States has said Myanmar's failure to amend a military-drafted constitution raises questions about the credibility of reforms.

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