Myanmar’s referendum can expect ‘yes’ to pro-military charterMay 11th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by admin
Yangon, May 11 (DPA) Myanmar’s “sham” referendum held this weekend despite the national tragedy wrought by Cyclone Nargis can expect an overwhelming “yes” vote for a new pro-military charter, according to initial counts by sources close to the ruling junta Sunday. Nearly 100 percent of the people voted in favour of the new constitution in Kokogyun township, Yangon Division, in the referendum held Saturday, while about 90 percent cast “yes” votes in Mandalay Division and 95 percent in Tachileik township, Shan State, a government source said on condition of anonymity.
Myanmar’s military rulers pushed through the referendum Saturday, intended to cement their political power, despite international appeals to postpone the vote in the wake of Cyclone Nargis that has killed an estimated 100,000 people.
Although the junta has postponed the vote to May 24 in 47 of the districts worst-hit by the cyclone, including much of the former capital Yangon, it rejected international appeals to delay the controversial referendum and concentrate on providing emergency relief.
The referendum process, held under the strict control of the military rulers, has been called a sham by human rights activists and western democracies for being neither free nor fair. The regime has used both intimidation and vote-buying to assure the populace votes “yes”, and will predictably resort to vote-rigging if too many vote “no”, observers said.
Many civil servants, teachers, soldiers, police and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) - the military’s mass organisation - were required to cast their votes in advance, and most were told by their bosses to vote “yes”, sources said.
During recent weeks, Myanmar’s military has made clear through billboard and media campaigns that they expect the people to vote in favour of them. It is expected that many people will still vote “no”, but since criticising the constitution in public became a crime as of last February, they are not likely to admit it.
“No” protest votes were expected to be especially high in the cyclone-affected areas, given the government’s poor response to the disaster, but whether they will be acknowledged in the official tallies is doubted.
Last week local media highlighted military men passing out emergency supplies to cyclone victims, while at the same time the junta refused to grant visas to international aid workers, slowing the disaster relief effort.
An estimated 1.5 million people were affected by Cyclone Nargis, which crashed into the central coastal region May 2 and 3, leaving 23,335 dead and 37,019 missing, according to the latest official figures. Others estimate the death toll could reach 100,000.
The referendum was on a new constitution, drafted by a military-appointed forum, which will essentially allow the military control over future elected governments through a system of appointees in both the upper and lower legislative houses.
Myanmar has been under military rule for the past 46 years. The current junta has promised a general election in 2010, but given its constitutional control over both houses, prospects for true democracy remain dim.