04/09/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Fear in Burmese villages: military coercion for approval of the referendum

The campaign for a "no" to the new constitution of the generals continues to win supporters. But outside the city centres, disinformation on the voting terrorises the people: it is feared that the ballots could record each voter's identification card number, connecting him to his electoral preference.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The military leaders in power in Myanmar are doing everything they can to convince the population to vote "yes" in the constitutional referendum scheduled for next May.  In spite of threats or false electoral promises, the citizens are determined to vote "no" in order to avoid legitimising, by a favourable vote, a government that they disapprove of completely.  The atmosphere in the Burmese cities and villages has been recounted to AsiaNews by some of the voters, who have asked to remain anonymous.

In the cities, the "no" to that constitution of the generals is gaining more and more supporters, but there is fear in the countryside.  "The soldiers", recounts one man on the outskirts of Mandalay, "are going house to house, or are applying pressure to the village leaders to convince the people to vote yes".  The latest stratagem of the junta to ensure greater voting participation has been that of releasing temporary identification cards that are valid only until the end of the voting. Many, in fact, especially in the minority ethnic and religious groups, do not possess identification documents, which are required for voting, so the authorities have decided to provide temporary documents that will expire in a month.

The mystery and disinformation over the referendum intended to approve the new constitution of Myanmar is total.  "The military leaders", says an elderly woman, "have told us that we will not know the date of the voting until 21 days before, and moreover no one has seen the text that we are going to vote on; if you ask where you can buy it or get it, the officials laugh in your face".  Nor does anyone know anything about how the voting will be conducted in the villages, and the people are afraid that the officials at the polls will ask to put the number of the identification card on the ballot, in order to track the choices of the individual voters, and perhaps make them pay for it later, if they mark the "no".

In Yangon and Mandalay, the campaign promoted by democracy activists, students, Buddhist monks, and dissidents continues.  The word "no" has been written in large letters in spray paint on the walls of some hotels and public places, and in recent days a small demonstration in the former capital gathered a group of 30 people wearing T-shirts with the word "no".  In response, the military junta is stepping up controls.  Inhabitants of the urban centres recount that there many checkpoints along the roads, and increasing numbers of soldiers walking around armed with rifles.

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