05/12/2008, 00.00
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Sham referendum a "success", but Myanmar risks a "disaster"

The National League for Democracy documents the serious irregularities in the voting on May 10: voters found their ballots already marked "yes", and others were threatened. Aid is still slow to arrive for the victims of Nargis. International aid workers warn of an "unimaginable" health disaster.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - "Massive" participation by voters, the constitutional referendum was a "success".  This is how the state media are depicting the voting on the new constitution, officially held on May 10 in Myanmar, devastated by the cyclone Nargis.  A great number of citizens were forced to vote for the "yes" in advance, and the rest had no choice: arriving at the polls, they found the ballots already marked, and the fear of reprisals on the part of the military blocked any sort of protest.  This is the claim of a report released yesterday by the information department of the National League for Democracy, the main party of opposition to the military junta.

According to the document, at some polls "the voters were not even provided with pens to mark the ballot, and out of fear of asking for them they turned the ballots in unmarked".  In the town of Tharrawaddy, Pegu, the authorities confiscated identity cards and gave them back only to those who had voted for the "yes". In Hmwan Pi, in the district of Yangon, the voters were given ballots already marked "yes", which they only had to deposit in the ballot boxes.  In the same district, poll officials forced the citizens to vote even for their relatives, and those who refused to vote for the "yes" were summoned for interrogation.  In Madaya, in the district of Mandalay, the authorities announced from loudspeakers in the streets that those who selected the "no" risked three years in prison and a 100 thousand kyat fine.

The referendum was held in almost the entire country, in spite of the catastrophe caused by the passing of Nargis last May 3.  Only 47 municipalities, the ones hardest hit by the cyclone, will vote on May 24.  While foreign aid is still arriving only in trickles, because of the "untrusting" attitude of the junta, the risk is that now the natural disaster will turn into a "humanitarian catastrophe".  English foreign minister David Miliband has spoken in these terms, and health experts agree with this view.  If aid workers do not arrive in time in the isolated areas, a "second disaster" is imminent, one caused by disease.  The official death toll today arrived at 28,458, with 33,416 displaced.  But according to UN estimates, there are least 100,000 victims, 220,000 displaced, and one and a half million people in need of aid.

To confront the emergency, the European Commission has called a meeting of the relevant ministers of the Union's member countries tomorrow.

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See also
Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts
Nargis: the junta barters aid in exchange for "yes" vote on the constitution
"Regular" voting at all costs, in a devastated country
The military "wins" the sham referendum on the constitution
The junta organises election rigging to pass the constitution


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