Myanmar's first general election in 20 years was held in November 2010. Unfortunately, despite much anticipation, it cannot be deemed democratic. The military junta barely left the outcome to chance. The 2008 Constitution reserves one quarter of the 664 parliamentary seats for army personnel. The Union Solidarity and Development Party secured 76.5% of the votes for the remaining 498 seats. Observers reported widespread electoral malfeasance during the election, which cemented the army's considerable sway over the nominally civilian government. Moreover, the conditions accompanying the election were extremely unfair. The election laws severely limited the ability of many political parties to field candidates. To illustrate, contesting parties had to pay a non-refundable
registration fee of Kt 500,000 (about $ 600) per candidate. This sum equals one yearâ€˜s salary for a civil servant. Furthermore, parties and their candidates were barred from giving speeches or publishing material that "tarnishâ€œ the image of the state or the armed forces, and from criticising the constitution. Nonetheless, recent developments suggest that the space for political participation and pluralism is gradually opening up. Recent by-elections in April 2012 were largely free and fair. Also, during 2011, the government freed a considerable number of political prisoners and enacted a law which, for the first time, allows peaceful political protests - provided they do not threaten national sovereignty, national stability, or laws that "preserve moralityâ€œ.