04/23/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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In the Burmese countryside, elderly and sick forced to vote "yes"

There has been early voting for these categories of voters: last Sunday, dozens of election observers went to the homes of the elderly and sick, requiring them to vote and to sign their ballots. In the state of Kachin, the authorities offer rice and mobile phones in exchange for support of the new constitution.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - In the Burmese villages, the elderly and sick have been summoned for early voting in the constitutional referendum, scheduled to take place on May 10 on the national level.  The voting was coerced by "volunteers" sent by the military regime, and was not conducted in secret.  On April 20 - sources outside of Mandalay tell AsiaNews - dozens of observers, including many young students, went to the homes of elderly and sick voters and "made them vote" for the "yes".  The citizens, moreover, were forced to sign the ballot, so that each vote could be traced back to the voter.  The population has been afraid for weeks that the junta might enact this kind of strategy.  The lack of secrecy in the voting makes more concrete the threats of "grave repercussions" issued by the authorities to those who will not support the new constitution.

"Fear reigns in the villages and in the province following this news", recounts a farmer in the southern part of the country, "we are angry and concerned at seeing the methods used by the government to obtain what it wants, but I hope that my countrymen will have the courage to vote 'no'".

Three weeks from the scheduled voting, the military junta is intensifying its campaign to gather support.  The news agency Democratic Voice of Burma yesterday claimed that the authorities are literally buying votes in the countryside in the state of Kachin, where many Christians live.  "They offer mobile phones and rice", says Lahpai Naw Din, director of the Kachin News Group headquartered in Thailand and cited by the agency.  "The religious leaders", he continues, "are asked to persuade their faithful to vote 'yes'.  The military officials have an easy game of it in the areas where the level of literacy is very low and access to the media is almost nonexistent".  "In the area of the Maykha river", the journalist adds, "they are manipulating the people as they please, they are sure they will obtain a large number of votes here".

Since 1988, Burma has had no constitution.  The referendum is part of the controversial "road map" toward democratic reforms proposed by the junta during the 1990's.  It will be followed by "democratic elections" in 2010, but experts maintain that this is only an attempt to consolidate the status quo, making it unassailable on the legal level.

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