European Union joins global calls for free and fair elections in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The European Union told military-run Myanmar on Saturday that its Nov. 7 elections, the first in two decades, will not be considered legitimate in the eyes of the world unless it can ensure the vote is free and fair.

The junta announced Friday that it had finally set an election date for the long-awaited polls. Critics say the elections are a sham designed to perpetuate the military's commanding role in politics.

"If these elections are to have legitimacy in the eyes of the people of (Myanmar) and the wider international community, the authorities must ensure that all parties can campaign freely and that the polling process itself is free and fair," said a statement released by the British Embassy in Yangon on behalf of other EU nations with missions in the country, including France, Italy and Germany.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a similar statement Friday. Like the EU, Ban called on Myanmar authorities to release all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, so they can participate in political activities.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military for nearly 50 years.

Suu Kyi's party overwhelmingly won the last elections in 1990 but was denied power by the military, which has kept the Nobel Peace Prize winner locked away, mostly under house arrest, for 15 of the past 21 years.

Her National League for Democracy is boycotting the upcoming elections, saying the rules that govern the vote are undemocratic and unfair. She is effectively banned from being a candidate.

Suu Kyi's party and several others say the scheduling of the elections does not allow enough time to recruit candidates and mount campaigns. Candidate lists must be submitted by the end of this month and campaigning can only begin when the junta announces a campaign period.

The United States has repeatedly condemned the election process. After visiting with Myanmar officials in May, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell said the junta's unwillingness to compromise and reform the electoral process led Washington "to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy."