03/27/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR

Underground campaign against junta’s new constitution

The junta is urging the population to approve the constitution, which legitimises its hold on power, with promises of democracy for 2010. In the meantime it is cracking down on all forms of dissent. For their part pro-democracy activists are engaged in an underground campaign for a No vote.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In a rare public statement from Naypyidaw, Than Shwe, head of Myanmar’s military junta, pledged elections and democracy for 2010 if next May the population approved the draft constitution that legitimates the military’s stranglehold on the country. In the meantime talking about such issues is still banned and pro-democracy leaders are either in jail or in hiding. However, activists are launching an underground campaign against the constitution.

The final version of the new constitution has not yet been made public but it is certain to give the military the power to control the government.

In order to ensure success Than Shwe is urging the population to crush the "destructive elements" that dare oppose the constitution and are “trying to sabotage the stability of the state.”

Just speaking about the constitution is in fact a one-way ticket to prison. Still the Generation 88 student group is spreading its message in flyers and t-shirts distributed underground or via e-mail sent from Internet cafés. They are also making video cassettes and CDs that are then exchanged in which they tell people to vote against the constitution.

The group is made up of former student leaders from the August 1988 pro-democracy movement which the military crushed in blood. At 3,000 people were killed at that time and more than 10,000 students were forced into exile.

Many of them spent ten years or more in jail but once out they have re-organised themselves and began protesting again in August 2007 taking advantage of popular outrage over gas price hikes.

The junta arrested important leaders like Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, but then Buddhist monks adopted their cause by taking to the streets, bringing huge crowds with them, as many as 100,000 in Yangon alone, at least until the bloody crackdown in September when 31 people are known to have lost their lives and many hundreds more were put in prison.

Since then Tun Myint Aung has been hiding.

“I'm not afraid of jail, but I'm afraid of not doing my work,” he told the South China Morning Post.

For him the May referendum is useless. In his opinion protests last year show that the public wanted an end to military oppression.

Voters in Myanmar have not been to vote since 1990, when they handed Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party a landslide victory in parliamentary polls. Since then Ms Suu Kyi has been detained.

Now Tun Myint Aung hopes that a No victory might weaken the junta.

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