Burma’s Sham Referendum
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE

Burma’s Sham Referendum


By THE IRRAWADDY MARCH, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.3


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Burma’s Sham Referendum

The Burmese military government’s announcement that a constitutional referendum will be held in May, followed by elections in 2010, has taken everyone by surprise.

“The time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule,” the state media reported.

Democratic civilian rule in Burma?

Unfortunately, no one is convinced. We suspect that any transition the junta has in mind would be very much one-sided and would guarantee that regime leaders take off their uniforms but hold on to power.

The announcement on February 9—a number signifying good fortune for the generals—is insufficient to satisfy either Burma’s pro-democracy opposition or the international community, despite the fact that it marked the first time the military government committed itself to a date for a referendum and elections.

The junta appears to be saying: “Take it or leave it—our road map is the only way to go.”

The constitution-drafting process has been carefully engineered by the military since 1993. Now we are faced with a referendum in two months on a constitution that no one has seen. What can we possibly expect from this sham process?

Furthermore, since the crackdown on monks and civilians in September, is it any wonder the people of Burma are in no mood to cooperate with the regime?

The announcement to hold a referendum confirmed yet again that the dialogue process is dead and that the United Nations’ efforts to bring about national reconciliation are a total failure.

Leading pro-democracy activists in Burma, notably the 88 Generation Students group and the All Burma Monks Alliance, have warned that the junta could face a new wave of protests during the planned constitutional referendum and are urging voters to reject the regime’s charter.

Foreign governments, including the US, UK, Australia, Japan and Singapore, have called on the junta to ensure that the transition process does not exclude the opposition and ethnic groups and leads to peaceful national reconciliation.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the military regime to “make the constitution-making process inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to ensure that any draft constitution is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Myanmar [Burma].”

But the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Surin Pitsuwan, said he saw some merit in the regime’s announcement.

“It has to begin somewhere and now it has a clear, definite beginning. I think it is a development in the right direction,” he said.

Few share his viewpoint.

A clause in the draft constitution’s guidelines guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in the country’s parliament, with representatives to be nominated by the commander in chief. The clause also allows the military to declare a “state of emergency” to suspend parliament and impose other restrictions.

This is no more than a unilateral military constitution in which the people of Burma have no voice.

Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi summarized the frustration felt by many when she described the dialogue between the regime’s mediator, Aung Kyi, and herself. “Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” she said.

This was a message of subtle irony. Suu Kyi’s father, the late Gen Aung San, released the same statement to the people of Burma before securing independence from Britain in 1947. The statement was, in fact, an ultimatum to the British—no independence would mean armed struggle and bloodshed.

In this instance, the regime’s inflexibility has forced the opposition to come out with a “Vote No” campaign.

It is impossible to persuade the ruling generals to show the world they truly want to move toward a legitimate government and gain the world’s recognition.

Our message is simply: “Be prepared for the worst.”

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