The United Nations chief warned Thursday that unless Myanmar's junta frees political prisoners its planned Nov. 7 elections may not be considered legitimate or credible.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told The Associated Press in an interview that freeing the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar would at least help create a "perception that this election will be more inclusive."
The Southeast Asian country's military rulers have enacted laws that prevent pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections, which have been slammed by critics as a sham.
Ban acknowledged that the political prisoners may not be "able to actually participate in the vote, but it will create a favorable political atmosphere which will make this perception better."
"But without releasing all political prisoners then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility," he said in an interview ahead of his bilateral meeting with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein in Hanoi this week.
This is the closest that Ban has come to criticizing the elections after repeatedly taking a diplomatic tone by urging the junta to make the elections more inclusive, fair and credible. But even his latest comments were tempered by hope that the junta would surprise everybody by making some concessions to the pro-democracy movement in a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.
The junta has kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. She is expected to be released on Nov. 13, just six days after the election.
"We expected and hoped that she should have been released much earlier. Now at this time I would strongly urge the Myanmar authorities that it is not too late even at this time to release all political prisoners so that the Nov. 7 elections could be more inclusive and more participatory and credible one," Ban said.
The junta has touted the elections as a big step forward in the country's so-called roadmap to democracy. But the results are considered a foregone conclusion, as the junta has already taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the country's main opposition party and limiting campaigning.
Suu Kyi's party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after winning a landslide victory in 1990 that was dismissed by the military leaders.
That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender to win the upcoming contest.
Ban sidestepped the question of whether the government that takes power after the elections would be considered legitimate or democratic.
"I am not in a position to judge any results, first of all. What I am emphasizing is that the Myanmar authorities should ensure all possible measures to make this election inclusive, credible and transparent," he said. "There will be an opportunity for me and the international comuntity to make a judgment on this process."
He dismissed suggestions that the U.N. had failed in its effort to democratize Myanmar, and instead blamed the Myanmar government.
"It is surely because of a lack of support, lack of political will on the part of Myanmar authorities," he said, adding that the U.N. will "continue to be engaged" with Myanmar after the elections.
"We will continue to facilitate this political, democratization process," he said.