Suu Kyi’s party calls for ‘No’ vote on constitution

From AFP – Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party yesterday urged voters to reject an army-backed constitution, turning next month’s referendum into Myanmar’s first battle for ballots in nearly 20 years.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement calling on the public “to clearly and bravely vote ‘No’ when you mark your ballots.” The party accused Myanmar’s ruling junta of handpicking the drafters of the constitution, saying it was written without consulting any opposing voices.

The final version of the constitution has not been released to the public, but leaked copies show the basic law would give the military continued dominance over the government even after elections slated for 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner who is under house arrest, would be barred from running for president because she married a Briton. The military would also receive broad powers to declare a state of emergency, allowing the generals to take direct control of the government while granting them immunity from prosecution.

The NLD said the constitution would not bring democracy to Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

“It cannot give any guarantee for democracy and human rights, which are strongly needed by the people,” the party said.

“It is not in accord with the basic democratic principle that the sovereign power of the state is derived from the people,” it added.

The referendum in May will be the first balloting in Myanmar since 1990, when the NLD won a landslide victory that was never recognised by the junta.

The junta says the referendum will pave the way to multiparty elections in 2010, but analysts say the constitution leave political parties with little room to campaign for the polls.

Many of Myanmar’s 54 million people have never voted before, so the NLD also issued a one-page guide explaining exactly how ballots are cast-instructing people how to inspect the voter roll, tick the ballot, and then ensure it is kept secret as it goes into the box.

The statement was the party’s official stand on the referendum, although the NLD’s youth wing had last week joined other dissidents in campaigning against the charter.

Myanmar’s secretive regime surprised the world by announcing its election timetable in February.

The junta says it is building a “discipline-flourishing democracy,” but critics accuse the generals of trying to enshrine their control of the government while distracting the world’s attention from its deadly crackdown on protests last year.

Buddhist monks in September led the biggest anti-government marches seen in nearly two decades, but the military responded by opening fire on the crowds and beating protesters in the streets.

The United Nations estimates that at least 31 people were killed, while Amnesty International says more than 700 remain behind bars.

The junta last month rebuffed an offer by a UN envoy to send observers and provide technical support for the polls. The regime has outlawed speeches and leaflets about the referendum, and the NLD’s ability to campaign is severely hampered because the party is only allowed to maintain one office in Yangon.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been confined to her home for 12 of the last 18 years, and her top lieutenant is also under house arrest. Myanmar has not had a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power by crushing a pro-democracy uprising, leaving at least 3,000 dead.

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