04/15/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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UN: the referendum on the Burmese constitution will be "a ritual without real content"

UN rapporteur Pinheiro emphasises that the opposition must be allowed to campaign, and international observers must be admitted to the voting. But he concludes that there are no signs of change. The constitution seems to do nothing but give an appearance of legitimacy to the military dictatorship.

Yangoon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The referendum for the new constitution of Myanmar, scheduled for May 10, will be "a ritual without real content" if international observers are not permitted to monitor it. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, UN special rapporteur on Burma, also accuses the military junta in power of blocking any kind of campaigning for the "no" vote.

The constitution was written by the military junta alone, and legalises the dominant power of the military officials.  Among other things, it reserves one quarter of the seats in parliament to military officers, and declares as ineligible those who have married foreign citizens, like opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Her party, the National League for Democracy, is calling for a "no" vote, but no campaign against the constitution is permitted in the country.  Local sources recount threats and intimidation to convince people to vote "yes", on a text that was made available only on April 9, and not even in the whole country.  To prevent any future amendments, it is established that modifications to the constitution must be proposed by 75 percent of the legislative body, and approved by all of the voters.

In part for this reason, Pinheiro maintains that a vote held "without any of the basic freedoms" and without international observers is devoid of meaning.  He has also accused the Burmese junta of detaining the democratic leaders, and arresting those who promote the "no" vote.  He concludes that there are no signs of political change in the country. Pinheiro was in Myanmar in November of 2007, shortly after the repression of anti-government protests.  The government then allowed UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to enter the country a number of times, but without making any concrete concessions, disappointing any expectation of openness.

Military officials have announced democratic elections for 2010, but experts maintain that this is only an attempt to put an end to criticisms and the economic embargo of Western countries.

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