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Many voices silenced as Myanmar vote campaign gets under way

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 11:51:00 04/20/2008

Filed Under: Myanmar crisis, Referenda

YANGON--In military-run Myanmar, the junta's campaign for the proposed draft constitution is in full swing while opposing voices are kept silent, but many people are not convinced by the generals' promises.

Three weeks ahead of the May 10 referendum on the charter, front pages of state press scream in bold headlines: "Let's vote Yes for national interest."

Songs extolling the new proposed constitution, which was drafted by a committee hand-picked by the generals, fill the prime-time airwaves of government-owned television and radio stations.

The draft constitution book is now available in many bookstores in Yangon, albeit at a price of nearly one dollar -- far beyond the means of most people in this impoverished country.

Than Than, a 45-year-old housewife in the economic hub Yangon, has no plans to splash out for the hefty 194-page basic law.

"We don't even need to read that book. Even a housewife like me has enough experience under military rule. I think it was just prepared to secure their power," she said.

The regime says the referendum will pave the way for multi-party elections in 2010.

But activists say the constitution was drafted with no public input, and simply enshrines the military's role in the country it has ruled for nearly half a century.

While barely a day goes by without the appearance in local press of poems, cartoons and editorials urging people to vote "Yes," efforts by pro-democracy activists to campaign against the charter have been quashed.

Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party is urging people to vote down the charter, but said last week that their activities were being curtailed, sometimes violently.

In the western town of Sittwe on Tuesday, at least 23 people wearing T-shirts bearing just one word -- "No" -- were arrested, the party said.

Official NLD documents were confiscated by authorities, they said, while local party organizers had been detained and interrogated.

Amid the tense atmosphere, people were weighing up their choice in the first poll to be held in Myanmar in 18 years.

"People are so stubborn. They should be aware that if we vote 'Yes,' the military will step down in two years, if not it will take another 10 years," said a Myanmar engineer who works in Singapore.

The proposed constitution reserves one quarter of seats in both chambers of Parliament for military members, while some key ministries including home affairs will also be controlled exclusively by the army.

Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from running for president under the new constitution because she was married to a foreigner.

Win, a 73-year-old former socialist party member, said it reminded him of the period after the military first grabbed power in 1962, headed by Ne Win.

"Many army officials including General Ne Win changed uniforms and took up positions in country's administration," he said.

Many people in Myanmar were unwilling to discuss how they plan to vote out of fear of repercussions from the regime, and some are afraid that their votes too will be monitored by the junta.

"It would be dangerous for us if we vote 'No' because somebody might watch what we vote for at polling places", said 59-year-old Ye Ye.

Analysts have warned that the generals will do anything to prevent a "No" vote, and have cautioned that the poll will likely not be free and fair.

The last time the junta called open elections in 1990, the NLD won by a landslide in a result the regime refused to recognize.

Instead, the generals kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she has remained for 12 of the last 18 years.

"I don't think they will clear out even if the result is 'No', but I just want to show clearly that I don't want them anymore," said a 38-year-old woman.

"So although there is not much hope for voting 'No,' I will just vote 'No' anyway."

Copyright 2015 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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