(Bloomberg) -- Myanmar’s military government took an early step toward holding parliamentary elections, but it did so by imposing strict rules on political parties that may make fair balloting difficult.

The country has been under sanctions, including by the US and EU, since the coup in 2021 that toppled the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Seeking to ease international pressure, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing had previously said parliamentary elections would likely be held by August this year. 

As an early step in the election process, the military issued a 20-page law prescribing complicated and rigorous rules for political parties hoping to compete.

These rules could block Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won the 2020 election by a landslide despite the junta’s claim of voter fraud dismissed by international observers. For instance, a party could be dissolved if it is declared unlawful or is alleged to have communications with terrorist organizations. 

The junta has handed 33-year imprisonment to Suu Kyi and jailed a number of other key leaders at her party including former president Win Myint, keeping them out of national politics. The shadow National Unity Government aligned with Suu Kyi urged people to oppose “sham” elections. 

In another sign that elections are drawing close, the National Defence and Security Council will meet next week in which Min Aung Hlaing is likely to hand over power to the council as no further extensions on the state of emergency can be permitted under the constitution. Elections have to be carried out within six months after the end of emergency rule. 

In November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the international community to deny the military any credibility it sought by holding a national election that didn’t “meaningfully engage with pro-democracy leaders.”

“The regime’s planned sham elections, which could not possibly be free and fair in the current context, will only fuel more violence, prolong the crisis, and defer the country’s transition to democracy and stability,” he said. 

Here’s more details on the new election law issued by the junta:

  • The rules sharply increase the requirement for membership of political parties vying for seats nationwide. Political parties will now be required to have at least 100,000 members within three months from the date of getting approval and have to deposit 100 million kyat ($43,727) at state-owned Myanma Economic Bank.
  • Existing political parties shall be deemed dissolved if they fail to re-register at the Union Election Commission within two months.
  • Political parties also need to open offices in at least half of 330 townships across the nation within six months after registering.
  • The regime has the right to dissolve any party if it fails to compete in at least half of all constituencies and fails to compete in by-elections.

(Updates with National Defence and Security Council meeting next week)

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