Yangon : Myanmar's military junta announced on Friday it would hold its first election in two decades in early November, despite Western fears the vote will be a sham aimed at shoring up the junta's half-century grip on power.
One quarter of the seats in parliament will be reserved for the military following the election, which state media said would be held on November 7.
Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- who has spent much of the past 20 years in jail or under house arrest -- is barred from standing in the election because she is a serving prisoner.
Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in 1990 but the junta never allowed it to take office.
A group of former NLD members has formed a new party, the National Democratic Force (NDF), to stand in the election -- a move that has put it at odds with Suu Kyi, who was opposed to participating in the polls.
The NLD opted to boycott the vote because of rules laid down by the junta that in effect would have forced it to expel Suu Kyi and other members in prison in order to participate. As a result, the party was forcibly disbanded by the ruling generals.
Under election legislation unveiled in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule will be abolished.
Without Suu Kyi, few think the NDF -- or any other opposition group -- could repeat the NLD's landslide victory in 1990, two years after it was formed in response to a popular uprising against the junta that left thousands dead. The woman known in Myanmar simply as "The Lady" remains the most powerful symbol of freedom in a country where the army rules with an iron fist.
In June she marked her 65th birthday under house arrest at her lakeside mansion in Yangon, cut off from the outside world without telephone or Internet access.
So far 40 parties have been allowed to register to stand in the polls, but some are already expressing concerns about conditions for the vote.
One pro-democracy party that is running in the polls said Tuesday it had complained to the election authorities about intimidation of its members by security personnel.
Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai said special branch police were visiting members' homes and asking them for personal information and two photos each.
Another candidate, Phyo Min Thein -- a former political prisoner -- resigned as head of the Union Democratic Party (UDP) last week and said he would not participate in the election because it would not be free and fair. AFP