YANGON, Myanmar — In a bold gamble, the party of Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi decided Monday to boycott the military-ruled country's first election in two decades, saying it would carry on its struggle for democracy even if it was officially disbanded.
The decision by the National League for Democracy, approved by an unanimous vote of the 113 executive members present at an all-day meeting, spotlights the question of the election's credibility. The NLD won the most parliamentary seats in the last election in 1990, whose results the military refused to honor.
The party said new laws guiding the election are undemocratic. Their provisions would bar Suu Kyi from participating, or even being a member of the party she helped found 22 years ago in the wake of a failed popular uprising against military rule.
"We will continue to pursue, through peaceful means, democracy and human rights with support, understanding and assistance from the people, ethnic nationalities and democratic forces," party vice chairman Tin Oo said.
The boycott could undermine the junta's claims that the election represents a step forward in its "road map for democracy."
The reaction of the international community, which has already expressed doubt over the fairness of the election, could be crucial in determining whether the election will proceed smoothly. The junta hopes holding the vote will ease pressure for political reforms.
At the same time, the party risks being further marginalized. If it loses its status as a legal party, it may face tighter restrictions.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that U.S. officials "understand and respect" the NLD decision.