Myanmar constitution referendum set for May 10
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Myanmar constitution referendum set for May 10
Katerina Ossenova at 2:46 PM ET
[JURIST] Myanmar’s 45-member Referendum Holding Commission has scheduled a planned national constitutional referendum [JURIST reports] for May 10, the military government announced Wednesday. Opposition groups like the National League for Democracy (NLD) have urged citizens to reject [JURIST report] the proposed constitution put forth by the military government, labeling the referendum a “sham” to legalize military rule. AP reported last month that the draft constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military [AP report; JURIST report] and would also block pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from seeking office.
Myanmar [JURIST news archive] has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. The last general elections in Myanmar were held in 1990. The NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won that election easily, but the ruling military government did not recognize the result and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.
Myanmar junta sets date for referendum
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military government announced Wednesday that it has scheduled its national referendum on a new constitution for May 10.
Myanmar has been under mounting pressure over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The government’s Referendum Holding Commission said the date was set because the 45-member body had met and judged arrangements to be “ready.” The announcement was broadcast on state radio and television news.
Pro-democracy groups have already urged voters to reject the draft charter, which they charge is meant to perpetuate military control.
The government in February had announced that the vote would be held in May, but had not given an exact date. Its rules said only that the date had to be announced at least 21 days in advance.
The junta earlier Wednesday published the text of its proposed constitution, which would guarantee the military a continuing role in government and ban Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from holding public office.
The government’s opponents had criticized the junta for not releasing it earlier, since a committee hand-picked by the military completed it on February 19.
Copies of the 457-article, 194-page document went on sale at government bookshops Wednesday for 1,000 kyat ($1) a copy. Copies of the text began to leak to journalists last week, after being distributed to selected officials.
Opposition leader Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party urged voters last week to reject the proposed charter because it was drafted under the junta’s direct control, without any input from the country’s pro-democracy movement.
The draft constitution will be adopted if more than half of eligible voters approve it.
The document bans anyone who enjoyed the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen from holding public office. This would keep Suu Kyi out of government because her late husband, Michael Aris, was a Briton and their two sons are British.
Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest, has been in detention without trial for more than 12 of the past 18 years.
The proposed charter allots 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament to the military. It empowers the president to transfer legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military’s commander in chief for a year if a state of emergency arises.
It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes unlikely unless supported by military representatives in Parliament.
The proposed charter also would protect junta members from legal prosecution for any acts carried out as part of their official duties.
The junta has been accused of gross human rights violations in suppressing the pro-democracy movement and in operations against ethnic minorities seeking autonomy or independence.
The junta announced in February that a constitutional referendum would be held in May, to be followed by general elections in 2010. The exact dates have not been announced.
Suu Kyi’s party won the last general elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power, instead stepping up its repression of dissidents.
The charter is based on a set of guidelines that a military-guided national convention completed last year after 14 years of on-and-off meetings. The junta calls the process starting with the convention and culminating in the general elections its “roadmap to democracy.”
Other groups urging a rejection of the charter include the 88 Generation Students group and the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, which were instrumental in organizing mass pro-democracy protests last year. Most of the leaders of the two groups are under arrest or in hiding.
Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and scrapped the previous charter after violently quashing mass pro-democracy demonstrations. E-mail to a friend
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