Myanmar rejects UN proposal for international observers

March 9th, 2008 - 1:20 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, March 9 (DPA) Myanmar’s junta has rejected a UN proposal that international observers be allowed to observe the upcoming referendum on the country’s new constitution scheduled in May this year, state media reports said Sunday. UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari proposed that international observers be allowed to assure the referendum is free and fair in talks held Friday with Thaung Nyunt, who heads the Commission for Holding Referendum, reported The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece.

“Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the state sovereignty,” said the newspaper in a detailed reprint of the talks between Thaung Nyunt and Gambari.

“Besides, there were no instances of foreign observers monitoring the events like a referendum. In the referendums for the 1947 and 1974 constitutions also, there were no foreign observers,” the head of the referendum commission said.

Gambari reportedly countered that the observers did not need to be from abroad, a suggestion Thaung Nyunt promised he would “bear it in mind”.

Myanmar will hold a referendum on an unspecified date in May to endorse a controversial draft constitution compiled over the past 14 years by a military-appointed forum that will enshrine the military’s role as a powerful political force in any future elected government.

The date of the referendum will be announced 21 days prior to the event. It will be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of the ruling junta’s “seven step road map” to democracy.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, when former strongman Ne Win staged a coup that overthrew the elected government of U Nu, Myanmar’s first and last elected prime minister since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

A referendum held in 1974 to endorse Myanmar’s previous constitution was a rigged affair, with “yes” and “no” boxes clearly marked to allow authorities to know how people had voted.

There are worries that the May referendum will be similarly manipulated, although Thaung Nyunt assured Gamabri, who arrived in Yangon Thursday that it would be carried out in accordance with international standards.

The refusal to allow international observers was deemed a second blow to Gambari’s mission. Prior to his talks with the referendum holding committee, Myanmar Information Minister Kyaw Hsan informed Gambari that no amendments will be allowed to the draft constitution, which in its current form bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the polls.

The UN has urged the junta to allow Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the last election of 1990, be allowed to contest the 2010 polls.

But the draft constitution stipulates that no Myanmar national married to a foreigner is allowed to run for public office. Suu Kyi was married to the late Michael Aris, a British professor at Oxford University.

Gambari met with Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003, Saturday afternoon. The details of their meeting were not immediately known.

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