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Burma's army digs in: Referendum result foregone conclusion
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    Burma's army digs in: Referendum result foregone conclusion

    ANALYSIS
    Burma's army digs in

    By Peter Janssen, dpa

    When Burmese vote in a May 10 referendum on the country's new constitution, they will be getting a bitter foretaste of the "discipline-flourishing democracy" the military has in store for them.

    The referendum, Burma's third in the past five decades, will theoretically decide the fate of the country's new charter, a document that promises to cement the dominant role of the military in Burmese politics following the next general election, planned in 2010.

    In fact, the outcome of the referendum is a foregone conclusion, according to veteran Burma watchers.

    "It's going to be a yes vote," said Naing Aung Oo, a former Burmese student activist who was forced to flee the country in the aftermath of the 1988 anti-military protests. "There are two reasons, one is intimidation and the other reason is the high probability of rigging the vote," he explained.

    The military junta, calling itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has left little up to free choice in the upcoming referendum.

    The generals no doubt learned their lesson from the 1990 election, which, contrary to their expectations and planning, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide.

    Despite their electoral victory, the NLD was blocked from power on the military's argument that a new constitution was needed before civilian rule could be risked in Burma, a country suffering from a long history of ethnic-based insurgencies and separatist struggles.

    The referendum on the constitution, which took 14 years to draft, was announced in February, amid intensifying international pressure on the Burmese military regime to demonstrate its sincerity in moving towards some form of democratic system in the aftermath of its latest crackdown on its own people in September of last year, when the government brutally suppressed protests led by Buddhist monks.

    In the same month, but less publicly, the regime also announced a new law that punishes anyone caught publicly criticizing the referendum with a three-year jail term and a fine.

    The law has been readily enforced. Between March and April scores of activists have been detained for holding peaceful protests urging a "No" vote on the referendum, including five members of National League for Democracy (NLD) who participated in a peaceful protest in Rangoon, according Human Rights Watch (HRW).

    The New York-based rights group said conditions for a free and fair referendum on May 10 do not exist because of 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 created by the ruling junta in the run-up to the election.

    But given the content of the constitution being voted on, the nature of this "discipline-flourishing" referendum should come as a surprise to nobody.

    Two of the fundamental principles of the military-drafted constitution are to provide "a discipline-flourishing genuine multiparty democracy" and "for the Tatmadaw (military) to be able to participate in the national political leadership role."

    How the military will dominate Burma's post-election politics is clearly spelled out.

    Under the draft charter, 110 members of 440-seat lower house, or People's Parliament, and 56 members of the 224-seat upper house, or National Parliament, would be selected by the military.

    Control of this 25 per cent 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-per-cent support.

    The draft constitution also includes restrictions excluding many opposition politicians from running for office and a clause that effectively prevents opposition leader Suu Kyi from holding any elected office because she is the widow of a foreigner.

    The new charter also enshrines the right of Burma's future president, a non-elected post that is likely to be claimed by the commander-in-chief, to seize executive and legislative powers in case of an emergency.

    "A military coup could be implemented in Burma by constitutional means," noted Lian Sakhong, general secretary of the Ethnic National Council, representing the ethnic minority groups opposed to the military.

    Bangkok Post

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    Re: Burma's army digs in: Referendum result foregone conclusion

    BURMESE LABOURERS

    Migrant workers go into hiding

    SUPAPONG CHAOLAN

    SURAT THANI : Around a thousand Burmese labourers in the southern province of Surat Thani have gone into hiding in the mountains over the past week, following rumours that Burmese soldiers had been sent to take them home to participate in a referendum on a new constitution on May 10.

    Oil palm and rubber plantations in Khiri Ratthanikhom, Tha Chang, Chaiya and Phunphin districts and Wipawadi sub-district have been left without workers during the peak harvest season.

    A rubber farm operator who did not want to be named said even registered Burmese workers packed their bags and fled after they received telephone calls from their fellow workers.

    He said he assured them that they would not be rounded up because their employment was legally registered, but they insisted on going out of fear of being prosecuted at home for illegally migrating.

    "I said it was impossible for Burmese soldiers to arrest people on Thai soil, but they did not listen. The visit of Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein has intensified their fears," he said, referring to the Burmese leader's three-day official visit which ended yesterday.

    "We have not tapped rubber for almost a week in Surat Thani and neighbouring provinces," he added.

    Pol Lt-Col Sommart Kiangsin, deputy police chief of Khiri Ratthanikhom district, said the rumours had been around for almost a week after three men in a pick-up truck seized migrant workers' work permits at a palm plantation and threatened them with a crackdown.

    Those workers called their friends and the rumours quickly spread, he said.

    "Customs officers and border patrol police did not claim responsibility for the incident," he added.

    Provincial customs office chief Pol Lt-Col Krit Sangpol blamed the rumours on a recent inspection of a palm oil factory by administrative officials and defence volunteers, who wore camouflage uniforms and carried shotguns.

    Burmese workers at the factory were fearful of men in uniforms and went on the run, he said.

    Bangkok Post

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    Re: Burma's army digs in: Referendum result foregone conclusion

    A people's ballot, Burma style: vote for the army or else
    By OBSERVER NEWS SERVICE

    Max Quincey
    Rangoon
    It was just a few months ago that the world was transfixed by Buddhist monks facing down the army in Burma's cities, fleetingly raising the hopes of a long-suffering people that decades of iron-fisted military rule might finally collapse.

    This week those same people are expected to endorse a new constitution dressed up by the army as a great leap towards democracy. In reality, it is little more than a means to perpetuate indefinitely the military's often brutal and corrupt control, and to keep from power the popular opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Burmese leader to have won a free election in recent times.

    But just to ensure that the vote in Saturday's referendum goes the right way, the hundreds of thousands of monks who caused all the trouble last September have been barred from voting, and opponents of 46 years of military rule say the army is using a mix of intimidation and patriotism to win support for a document that few Burmese have read or understand.

    'People here are just like puppets and the generals hold the strings,' said Kyaw Min, an opposition activist who was jailed by the army for 14 years and badly tortured. 'But we are also tied with iron chains, and this constitution is being waved over the top of our heads just like another steel rope ready to tie us more. What they are forcing us to vote "yes" for has been designed not for the people but for "them", and to keep them in power for longer. It's a bad farce.'

    The constitution has been 14 years in the making as part of the long march towards the promised land of 'discipline flourishing democracy'. It was drafted by delegates handpicked by the military. None was a member of the opposition.

    There were no public debates on its content, because the referendum law forbids public meetings and lectures on the new constitution, the distribution of pamphlets and papers about it, and the display of posters on the issue. Offenders face three years in prison.

    Presumably all this is to stop any discussion of the implications of a constitutional requirement that any contender for President must have what is described as a sound knowledge of military affairs.

    The new constitution also requires that the army select a quarter of the members of parliament, and that the military has the power to remove a civilian government it deems to have jeopardised national security.

    There is a clause designed specifically for Suu Kyi, who won the annulled 1990 election and is under house arrest, that requires Burma's President to have lived continuously in the country for at least 20 years at the time of the election, and that the President's spouse and children should not hold foreign nationality. But few voters know this because the wording of the constitution was revealed to the public only two weeks ago, and only to those who could afford to buy a copy.

    Instead, voters are reliant on the interpretation of the state-run press. Government newspapers, radio and television pump out propaganda in favour of a yes vote using famous actresses to smile and tick the appropriate box on the ballot. The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece more popularly known as the Dim Light, offers up a daily diet of propaganda that equates support for the referendum with 'ardent patriotism' and 'genuine independence' from 'foreign manipulation', and calls those who oppose the new constitution opposition 'puppets' tied to colonial powers.

    To ensure a vote in favour, the military has lumped Burma's 400,000 monks in with the mentally ill and convicted criminals who are excluded from voting. Opposition groups say civil servants are being forcedt o vote ahead of the referendum in their ministries, often in circumstances where it is far from secret.

    There is also a whispering campaign apparently generated by the military in which people are led to believe that voting against the new constitution will be regarded as 'disturbing' the process of the elections and liable to three years in prison. There are reports that voters will be obliged to put their name and identity numbers on their ballot papers. Some villagers are being told by headmen that a vote in favour of the new constitution actually means an end to military rule.

    Burmese exile groups in Thailand claim that some people crossing the border say they have already been forced to vote. The Federation of Trade Unions (Burma) says it interviewed a resident of Chaung Zone village in the south's Tavoy region, who said he was told by the headman that he must cast his ballot before leaving for Thailand.

    The villager said he was forced to mark his vote as officials watched over him. 'We had to tick marks on the ballots where U Than Shein(an election official) showed us with his finger,' he said. 'When they gave the ballots to us, our name, address and ID card number were already included on the ballots, and we do not know when they arranged for this. We only ticked the mark where they showed on the ballot. The Chaung Zone headman and the polling official warned the villagers that anyone who does not come to vote will be removed from their family unit list and expelled from the village.'

    Still, the military is clearly concerned about the possibility of a popular backlash, either at the ballot box or on the streets. Monasteries continue to be monitored and shut by military intelligence. Access to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest in Rangoon, Burma's main city and former capital, has been restricted to monks. Many streets are now equipped with surveillance cameras, special police are deployed and highly visible beatings and arrests are frequent again.

    But while people say they are frustrated by the intimidation and the prospect of endless military rule, that has yet to translate into a new bout of protest. Instead there is resignation and apathy in the face of what many consider the military's inevitable victory.

    Many Burmese are putting their faith in celestial predictions. The country has just celebrated the new year of 1370, according to the local Buddhist calendar, a year that is the harbinger of changes and important clashes.

    According to this belief, a god will descend with two parchments in hand - one of gold carrying the names of the brave and just, the other made of dog's hide inscribed with the wicked and corrupt whom god will slay with a sword.

    Educated people dismiss such predictions, but they have a powerful place among large numbers of Burmese who see no other hope for change.

    Faced with the prospect of perpetual, if eventually indirect, military rule, many Burmese embrace Suu Kyi's philosophy in her dealings with the army: 'Hope for the best, prepare for the worst'.

    (Via "The Nation")

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    Re: Burma's army digs in: Referendum result foregone conclusion

    A people's ballot, Burma style: vote for the army or else
    By OBSERVER NEWS SERVICE

    Max Quincey
    Rangoon
    It was just a few months ago that the world was transfixed by Buddhist monks facing down the army in Burma's cities, fleetingly raising the hopes of a long-suffering people that decades of iron-fisted military rule might finally collapse.

    This week those same people are expected to endorse a new constitution dressed up by the army as a great leap towards democracy. In reality, it is little more than a means to perpetuate indefinitely the military's often brutal and corrupt control, and to keep from power the popular opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Burmese leader to have won a free election in recent times.

    But just to ensure that the vote in Saturday's referendum goes the right way, the hundreds of thousands of monks who caused all the trouble last September have been barred from voting, and opponents of 46 years of military rule say the army is using a mix of intimidation and patriotism to win support for a document that few Burmese have read or understand.

    'People here are just like puppets and the generals hold the strings,' said Kyaw Min, an opposition activist who was jailed by the army for 14 years and badly tortured. 'But we are also tied with iron chains, and this constitution is being waved over the top of our heads just like another steel rope ready to tie us more. What they are forcing us to vote "yes" for has been designed not for the people but for "them", and to keep them in power for longer. It's a bad farce.'

    The constitution has been 14 years in the making as part of the long march towards the promised land of 'discipline flourishing democracy'. It was drafted by delegates handpicked by the military. None was a member of the opposition.

    There were no public debates on its content, because the referendum law forbids public meetings and lectures on the new constitution, the distribution of pamphlets and papers about it, and the display of posters on the issue. Offenders face three years in prison.

    Presumably all this is to stop any discussion of the implications of a constitutional requirement that any contender for President must have what is described as a sound knowledge of military affairs.

    The new constitution also requires that the army select a quarter of the members of parliament, and that the military has the power to remove a civilian government it deems to have jeopardised national security.

    There is a clause designed specifically for Suu Kyi, who won the annulled 1990 election and is under house arrest, that requires Burma's President to have lived continuously in the country for at least 20 years at the time of the election, and that the President's spouse and children should not hold foreign nationality. But few voters know this because the wording of the constitution was revealed to the public only two weeks ago, and only to those who could afford to buy a copy.

    Instead, voters are reliant on the interpretation of the state-run press. Government newspapers, radio and television pump out propaganda in favour of a yes vote using famous actresses to smile and tick the appropriate box on the ballot. The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece more popularly known as the Dim Light, offers up a daily diet of propaganda that equates support for the referendum with 'ardent patriotism' and 'genuine independence' from 'foreign manipulation', and calls those who oppose the new constitution opposition 'puppets' tied to colonial powers.

    To ensure a vote in favour, the military has lumped Burma's 400,000 monks in with the mentally ill and convicted criminals who are excluded from voting. Opposition groups say civil servants are being forcedt o vote ahead of the referendum in their ministries, often in circumstances where it is far from secret.

    There is also a whispering campaign apparently generated by the military in which people are led to believe that voting against the new constitution will be regarded as 'disturbing' the process of the elections and liable to three years in prison. There are reports that voters will be obliged to put their name and identity numbers on their ballot papers. Some villagers are being told by headmen that a vote in favour of the new constitution actually means an end to military rule.

    Burmese exile groups in Thailand claim that some people crossing the border say they have already been forced to vote. The Federation of Trade Unions (Burma) says it interviewed a resident of Chaung Zone village in the south's Tavoy region, who said he was told by the headman that he must cast his ballot before leaving for Thailand.

    The villager said he was forced to mark his vote as officials watched over him. 'We had to tick marks on the ballots where U Than Shein(an election official) showed us with his finger,' he said. 'When they gave the ballots to us, our name, address and ID card number were already included on the ballots, and we do not know when they arranged for this. We only ticked the mark where they showed on the ballot. The Chaung Zone headman and the polling official warned the villagers that anyone who does not come to vote will be removed from their family unit list and expelled from the village.'

    Still, the military is clearly concerned about the possibility of a popular backlash, either at the ballot box or on the streets. Monasteries continue to be monitored and shut by military intelligence. Access to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest in Rangoon, Burma's main city and former capital, has been restricted to monks. Many streets are now equipped with surveillance cameras, special police are deployed and highly visible beatings and arrests are frequent again.

    But while people say they are frustrated by the intimidation and the prospect of endless military rule, that has yet to translate into a new bout of protest. Instead there is resignation and apathy in the face of what many consider the military's inevitable victory.

    Many Burmese are putting their faith in celestial predictions. The country has just celebrated the new year of 1370, according to the local Buddhist calendar, a year that is the harbinger of changes and important clashes.

    According to this belief, a god will descend with two parchments in hand - one of gold carrying the names of the brave and just, the other made of dog's hide inscribed with the wicked and corrupt whom god will slay with a sword.

    Educated people dismiss such predictions, but they have a powerful place among large numbers of Burmese who see no other hope for change.

    Faced with the prospect of perpetual, if eventually indirect, military rule, many Burmese embrace Suu Kyi's philosophy in her dealings with the army: 'Hope for the best, prepare for the worst'.

    (Via "The Nation")

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