Myanmar adopts new pro-military constitution

May 29th, 2008 - 10:52 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 29 (DPA) Myanmar Thursday adopted a new constitution that guarantees military control over future elected governments after a heavily-criticised national referendum approved the charter with a more than 90 percent vote in its favour. State television announced the new constitution, which took 14 years to draft, was approved by Senior General Than Shwe, who heads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as Myanmar’s junta styled itself.

Than Shwe pushed the referendum through May 10, despite the national catastrophe caused by Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into Myanmar’s central coast May 2-3 leaving at least 133,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million people in need of food, water, shelter and medicines.

In deference to the people affected by the cyclone, or perhaps to international opinion, the vote was postponed in 47 of the worst hit townships until last Saturday.

In the referendum - a process completely controlled by the military with no independent observers - more than 92 percent of the population allegedly voted “yes”, with an unbelievable 90 percent turnout even in areas still reeling from the recent disaster.

The vote has been described as a “sham,” by observers.

Myanmar’s new constitution promises to cement the military’s dominant role in the country’s politics following the next general election scheduled some time in 2010.

The referendum date was set by Than Shwe, and also refused by him to postpone the date despite the destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis, according to experts on Myanmar’s arcane political scene.

On Sep 26-27, Myanmar’s junta unleashed its troops on hundreds of Buddhist monks who had led anti-government protests in Yangon, sending thugs to beat and round up the protectors of Myanmar’s national religion.

The brutal onslaught, that left at least 31 dead, enraged Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist population against their rulers and drew harsh criticism from the international community.

It was partly in response to that growing pressure that Than Shwe in February announced plans to hold a referendum to decide on the country’s new constitution and ultimately pave the way for a general election in 2010.

The constitution, however, holds little promise for true democracy in Myanmar, a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.

The referendum itself has been condemned by human rights groups for being neither free nor fair, but rather being held amid widespread repression, media censorship, bans on political gatherings, the lack of an independent referendum commission and courts to supervise the vote, and a pervasive climate of fear.

The new charter assures the military a dominant role in the future Myanmar by granting the military the right to appoint 110 members of the 440-seat lower house and 56 members of the 224-seat upper house.

Control of this 25 percent of both houses would effectively bar amendments to the charter that might threaten the military’s dominance, since for an amendment to pass, it would require more than 75 percent support.

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