Referendum Farce in Burma

PRAGUE – The enormous suffering of the Burmese people caused by the recent cyclone, which has caused tens of thousands of deaths, deserves the sympathy of the entire world. But more than sympathy is needed, because the Burmese military junta’s incompetence and brutal oppression are further aggravating the tragic consequences of this natural disaster.   

In the midst of the cyclone’s devastation, Burma’s ruling generals went ahead and held a referendum on a new constitution. But, according to Burma’s Constitutional Referendum Act, members of religious organizations, those subject to criminal prosecution, and members of ethnic groups that have not agreed to a ceasefire with the government were barred from voting. Thus, all current and former political prisoners, about 500,000 Buddhist monks, and more than twice as many members of ethnic minority groups living close to the borders were banned from the vote.

Moreover, according to the new constitution that was supposedly “approved” by the “referendum,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has never been prosecuted and still remains under house arrest, is barred from standing in the 2010 general elections under the pretext that her deceased husband was British. Is the world really willing to accept such an absurdity?

We strongly support the Burmese opposition’s campaign calling on the country’s citizens to reject the constitution, which does not promote human rights, but only confirms the military’s political role. Many democracy activists have been arrested throughout the country. The regime’s draconian “law” (5/96) prohibits participants from criticizing the draft constitution; those who dare to challenge the regime face a 20-year prison sentence.