02/11/2008, 00.00
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Widespread scepticism after junta announces democratic elections

Military junta announces constitutional referendum in May this year and parliamentary elections in 2010. Burmese pro-democracy activists have doubts, especially since the new constitution drafted by the military is still under wraps. For analysts political detainees should be released and freedom protected first.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The announcement made by Myanmar’s military junta on TV and radio last Saturday night that elections will be held in 2010 has been received with widespread scepticism both at home and abroad. On the same occasion the junta announced that a referendum will be held this coming May over its new constitution. In both cases it is the first time that the military have given an exact date.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for more than 12 years, said that she was “surprised” by the announcement, adding only that “it is still too early to talk about elections.”

U Nyan Win, spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, also said that any talk about elections was still “premature” since the final draft of the constitution remains unknown and the constitutional referendum has not been held yet.

Burma experts also remain quite sceptical since eventual elections would be meaningless with all opponents in jail and the military still in power and in control of every media outlet in the country in the wake of the last September’s brutal crackdown of peaceful protests by Buddhist monks. Political prisoners should be released and greater freedom protected first.

For Win Min, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University, the situation is similar to that which followed 8 August 1988 when the junta promised elections in order to get the population to stay off the streets and prevent further mass protests after its crackdown on dissent killed more than 3,000 people.

Elections were eventually held in 1990 and were won by Suu Kyi’s party, a result that was rendered moot by another coup that put all of the military’s opponents in prison.

Other observers believe that the announcement is designed to gain time after the junta barred UN special advisor Ibrahim Gambari from returning to Myanmar to mediate between the army and Suu Kyi and the European Union and the United States threatened new sanctions.

In 1993 the junta had promised a new constitution and for that purpose appointed a commission that has been drafting the new charter without the participation of the main opposition groups and the country’s 100 and more ethnic groups.

It is expected that the new constitutional dispensation will set aside 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats for the military who will be able to exercise a veto power over the parliament’s decisions.

It is also expected that the army chief will have the power to appoint key ministers and assume all powers “in cases of emergency.”

Last but not least, the constitution is expected to bar from running in presidential elections anyone “holding rights and privileges in a foreign country,” a measure that appears to be directed at Suu Kyi whose late husband was British.

For analysts Aung Naing Oo the new constitution simply guarantees that the military will stay in power, allowing them to intervene in political matters at any time.

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