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Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 15:20 UK

Burma PM 'applies to form new political party'

Leaders including PM Thein Sein (second left) on 27 March 2010
Thein Sein (second left) is said to be among the top leaders stepping down

Burma's Prime Minister Thein Sein has applied to register a new political party ahead of elections scheduled for later this year, say reports.

The move comes after Thein Sein and some 20 other ministers in the junta retired from their military posts.

Under Burma's new constitution, a fixed number of seats are allocated to the military and to civilians.

Critics say the ministers' move is a way of ensuring a greater military presence in the future government.

No date has yet been set for the elections - the first in Burma for 20 years - but they are expected some time this year.

Thein Sein and 26 others applied to register the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) with the electoral commission on Thursday, Burma's state media reported.

What I see is that the generals are systematically trying to keep power with legitimacy
Win Tin, NLD

Its name appears to confirm the long-expected view that members of the military junta would form a party under the auspices of the junta's mass organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

The USDA says it has some 24 million members, but many are thought to have joined under coercion.

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent Vaudine England says the USDA is accused of being involved in the violent suppression of protests led by monks in 2007 and of an attack on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003.

An official told the AFP news agency the new party would be led by Thein Sein, who appears to still hold the post of prime minister but is no longer refered to by his military title in state media.

But civil servants are barred from standing in the elections, so the party's potential leadership has sparked debate, says our correspondent.

'Unfair'

Some 25% of the seats in Burma's new parliament have been reserved for the military while the rest are allocated to civilian candidates.

But as the ministers have resigned their army posts they will be able to run for office as civilians.

BURMA'S ELECTION
Constitution: 25% of seats in parliament reserved for the military
Constitution: More than 75% approval required for any constitutional change
Election law: Those with criminal convictions cannot take part - ruling out many activists
Election law: Members of religious orders cannot take part - ruling out monks
Election commission: Handpicked by Burma's military government

Analysts say having a pro-military party in civilian seats will ensure the junta retains its grip on power.

A spokesman for the NLD said the formation of the USDP was proof of the generals' attempts to remain in control of the elections and the country.

"What I see is that the generals are systematically trying to keep power with legitimacy," Win Tin told the Irrawaddy, an exile Burmese news organisation.

The last elections in Burma were held in 1990. They were won overwhelmingly by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) but the party was never allowed to take power.

The NLD is boycotting these elections because of what it says are unjust electoral laws designed to exclude most of its key leaders.

Ms Suu Kyi and other senior dissidents are banned from participating because of convictions linked to their political activism.

The party would have had to expel them if it wanted to run for office. Any party which does not register with the election commission will have to disband.

Burma says 25 groups have applied to form new political parties so far, along with four existing parties. Twelve have been authorised while the rest are under scrutiny, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported.

Many Western nations have roundly criticised the laws under which the polls will be conducted.



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