Monday, 21 April 2008

Government staffs forced to sign pledge to cooperate on referendum


18 Apr 2008 - Departmental officers of the Burmese government have been made to sign a pledge that they will work in coordination with the referendum commission to campaign to the people to cast the ‘Yes' vote.

A school administrator in Mon State, "We had to sign that we are going to cooperate and help them in the coming referendum". All staff members of schools and other departments were forced to sign.

"We will help out the commission in the polling booths and the referendum process in May", she said. Their signatures will be submitted to the top authorities.

Departmental offices in Mon State were forced to sign by their relevant ministry from the end of March.

To get the 'Yes' vote, the Burmese regime has not closed government offices for civilian staff members during the water festival even though it had declared closure during the festival.

After the Burmese regime ordered the closure for the duration of the water festival, the Township department officers were reordered not to close the office and stand by at the office by their concerned ministry.

According to some civilian department officers, the officers have to take the responsibility of explaining to their staff members about the new constitution.

"It was a mix up. We can't do our job well due to such contradictory orders," the school administrator said.

Burmese embassy in Singapore to conduct absentee voting

Mizzima News
April 19, 2008

New Delhi – The Burmese embassy in Singapore has announced that it will hold absentee referendum voting at the end of April, and has reportedly sent out notices to Burmese citizens to come to the embassy premises to cast their votes.

In a letter sent to Burmese citizens, the embassy said it will hold absentee referendum voting from April 25 to 29. The letter, which is dated April 10, was signed by Kyaw Swe Tint, Consul of the Burmese embassy in Singapore.

The letter, a copy of which is with Mizzima, said Burmese citizens must bring copies of their passports or proof of identity. Reports said Singapore hosts at least 40,000 Burmese citizens with legal documents.

Meanwhile, the Singapore based Patriotic Exile Burmese Organisation, has urged Burmese citizens to cast the "No" vote as a protest against the current military rulers.

The group said, it has begun explaining to people the articles in the junta's draft constitution and urged them to reject it by voting "No'.

However, the group expressed concern over rumours that voters going to the embassy to vote will be asked to write down their passport number and national identity card numbers, which will help authorities identify voters.

"Vote rigging is almost certain even if we cast the 'No' vote. And some are afraid of casting the 'No' vote in the referendum after hearing the rumours that their passport number and National ID number will be noted down on the ballot paper. So they are undecided about going to the embassy for casting their votes. But we explained to them and many are convinced," Ko Kyaw Soe from the Patriotic Exile Burmese organization said.

A Burmese in Singapore said that the draft constitution has not yet been distributed in Singapore and inviting them to cast votes in the referendum is nothing but cheating them by forcing them to cast votes without studying the draft and knowing about the pros and cons of giving their consent to this draft.

"The constitution is an important document which must guarantee fundamental civic rights and human rights. It is not fair to cast votes in a referendum without studying the draft. So we have no other choice, but to cast 'No' votes in this referendum," he added.

The Patriotic Exile Burmese Organization said it will urge voters, authorities of Singapore, foreign embassies in Singapore, media groups and Burmese monks to monitor the voting at the embassy and call for counting of the votes on the same day and monitor the result.

"There are about 40,000 Burmese in Singapore. It will be ok if 35,000 cast 'No' votes and the remaining 5,000 cast 'Yes' votes on that day. This news will spread to Burma and influence the voting in Burma," Kyaw Soe said.

Similarly, Burmese citizens in Japan, US, UK, and Australia have been notified by the Burmese embassy for the dates of absentee referendum voting. However, the actual dates could not be confirmed as yet.

Upcoming political uncertainties hover over Burma

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

In less than three weeks the Burmese people will vote in a national referendum on the country's draft constitution.

April 21, 2008 - It will be a historic democratic battle between the iron-fisted government that wants to impose its rule and impoverished voters who want to be free. The draft constitution, which would give 25 per cent of parliament seats to the military, was recently completed after 15 years. Draft copies are now available in bookstores for 1000 kyats (Bt4,846) - something not all Burmese can afford.

Bangkok-based diplomats and Burmese living in exile around the world have predicted that voters will certainly reject the draft constitution. Growing resentment over the increased price of gas and oil, which triggered the saffron uprising last August, continues to mount and is currently being compounded with increases in the price of rice and other basic-food commodities.

Unfortunately, the exact count will never be known or publicised. The results - whatever they may be - will depend

totally on the whip or rather the imagination of junta leaders. Without international observers, the referendum would lack creditability and legitimacy. There is also a strong possibility that there could be further violence after the referendum if the junta goes against the people's will.

To the junta, public affirmation and legitimacy - even if it has been fabricated to the hilt - is necessary and considered a pivotal step to put its seven-point roadmap for democracy in place. At issue here are the various post-referendum scenarios and the outside world's reaction to them. Whatever happens would inevitably affect Burma's future and its people's aspirations for democracy, including the planned 2010 election. Despite pessimism, Asean, the UN and the international community continue to look for ways to make Burma more democratic and inclusive in future political processes.

They are now trying to gauge the junta leaders' political moves, which have been surprising so far. After repeatedly failing to engage the Burmese regime even before September's crackdown on monks, they have been looking for new ways to keep channels with the junta open.

De-linking politics from humanitarian and development assistance, the approach currently taken by the EU, could serve as a new modus operandi. The idea of punishing the regime, coupled with increasing assistance to those most vulnerable inside Burma, is gaining currency.

With the US continuing to impose harsher sanctions, the EU approach is obviously more attractive at this point. However, it is still too early to tell if this path will lead to more positive outcomes. In past months, vulnerable Burmese have benefited more from increased humanitarian and development assistance, especially in heath care and education, than before. As a matter of urgency, the EU should provide more anti-viral drugs for additional HIV/Aids patients beyond the current 10,000.

Asean's inability to convince Burma to comply with norms of collective responsibility and group interest has been appalling. For over a decade, the Burma debacle has sapped the grouping's energies and marred the grouping's prospects of cooperation with dialogue partners. As the current Asean chair, Singapore, has tried and subsequently failed to engage both Asean members and major powers in resolving the Burmese quagmire.

Burma's bitterness over Singapore's handling of the political fallout from the September crackdown remains evident. The cold shoulder that Burma has been giving UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari over the past six months is linked to his aborted plan to brief East Asian leaders at November's Asean Summit in Singapore.

But the UN remains crucial for any future settlement and rehabilitation in Burma. With continued coordination between US, UK and France, the council is expected to add Burma to its future agenda. A tougher and more binding resolution could be expected.

In the previous council's discussion last year, China and Russia vetoed the resolution calling for sanctions. Given the current international political environment, there could be further trade-offs among the council's members.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's dealings with Burma have been quite exceptional. He has had personal correspondence with the reclusive General Than Shwe for quite some time. But it was only last week that the president's office had enough confidence to inform the media that Yudhoyono's efforts were not all in vain and that the general has answered his mail.

In his letter, Than Shwe assured Yudhoyono of the continuing democratic process in his country and pledged to continue communicating with him. "This is a unique process as every one of the president's letters has been replied to by General Than Shwe," said presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal.

It remains to be seen whether this "unique process" will lead to more tangible progress. After all, Than Shwe is still the leader who decides everything in Burma. With a presidential election scheduled for next year, Yudhoyono is also pondering his own political legacy. As Asean's largest member, Indonesia carries weight with whatever plans it undertakes, especially on regional issues.

To back up Yudhoyono's personal initiative, the Indonesian foreign ministry has fine-tuned a peace plan for Burma that would involve initially informal discussions among a handful of key stakeholders. It is essentially a mechanism similar to the informal talks held in Jakarta in the early 1990s to end the Cambodian conflict. Indonesia skilfully played the role of mediator and employed a strategy that allowed rival Cambodian groups to meet and subsequently agree on common ground, which eventually led to the Paris peace talks.

Before it is formally proposed to Asean, Indonesia wants to make sure that it has the support of its colleagues and the international community for a Burmese peace plan. China has already supported this peace plan and soon Asean would make its position known.

Source: The Nation

Voices silenced in Myanmar vote campaign

21 April, 2008

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 $1 – 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 organisers 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 recognise.

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.”

Source: AFP-Gulf Times

Myanmar arrests keep pressure on "no" campaign

By Aung Hla Tun

April 20, 2008, YANGON (Reuters)
- Myanmar's junta is intensifying its campaign of intimidation against dissidents, and conducting a propaganda drive, to ensure its new constitution gets passed in a referendum next month, opposition leaders said on Sunday.

At least 60 people have been arrested in Sittwe, capital of northwest Rakhine state, since last week's traditional New Year celebrations for wearing T-shirts urging people to vote "No" in the May 10 plebiscite.

"More than 30 have been released but at least 20 are still in detention, and the arrests are still going on," Ko Thein Hlaing, a senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Rakhine, told Reuters.

The NLD, whose leader Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, is leading the campaign to reject the constitution, which has been drafted over the last 14 years by an army-picked committee.

The NLD boycotted the process because of Suu Kyi's detention, and refuses to accept some of the main clauses of the charter, in particular those guaranteeing the army 25 percent of seats in parliament and the right to suspend the constitution at will.

Other underground opposition groups are also pushing for the former Burma's 53 million people to reject the charter, most notably the "88 Generation Students" who led a brutally crushed 1988 uprising against decades of military rule.

In addition to the Sittwe arrests, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said one party official had been arrested in Yangon for putting up a "No" poster, and several other party members had been beaten or assaulted for campaigning.

Perhaps mindful of 1990, when they allowed an election only to suffer a humiliating defeat -- which they then ignored -- to Suu Kyi's NLD, the generals are also pulling out all the propaganda stops to ensure the charter passes.

State-run MRTV has been broadcasting programmes and songs calling for a "Yes", while government workers and soldiers have also received orders on how to vote.

Regime-controlled newspapers have also been carrying slogans, articles, commentaries and poems urging people to vote in favour.

"To approve the State Constitution is a national duty of the entire people today," the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's official mouthpiece, blared in a front-page headline.

Inside, the paper carried a sinister commentary accusing dissidents of being "the axe-handles and mouthpiece of the colonialists".

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Bill Tarrant)