BurmaNet News, May 2, 2008
editor at burmanet.org
Fri May 2 13:57:15 EDT 2008
May 2, 2008 Issue # 3457
AP: Junta says Suu Kyi can vote
Reuters: Myanmar "forces" civil servants to vote for charter
DVB: 1990 representative given 3-year jail term
Irrawaddy: Military offensive affecting Karen children: KHRG
Narinjara News: Burmese navy mobilizes for "yes" vote
ON THE BORDER
AFP: Cyclone lashes Myanmar after missing Bangladesh
SHAN: Workers call for rights on May Day
Bangkok Post: Migrant workers go into hiding
BUSINESS / TRADE
The Nation: Gas pipeline in Burma leaks
Thaindian News: India urged not to back Myanmar referendum
AP: Bush signs order to further crackdown on Myanmar
Irrawaddy: Suu Kyi among 100 most influential people: Time Magazine
Earth Times: UN council urges political freedoms for all in Myanmar
OPINION / OTHER
The Japan Times: The rape of Burma: where did the wealth go?
Mizzima News: Burma's referendum: a done deal that may yet unravel
Irrawaddy: With friends like these, who needs democracy?
White House: Statement by the President of the United States on Burma
May 2, Associated Press
Junta says Suu Kyi can vote
Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to vote in the
upcoming referendum on the country's military-backed draft constitution,
according to an official voting list released Friday.
Local government offices posted lists of people who have the right to vote
in the May 10 referendum on a proposed constitution that critics say is a
sham designed to cement military rule.
Suu Kyi's name was on the list of voters in Bahan township, a neighborhood
in Rangoon, the country's biggest city. Suu Kyia Nobel Peace Prize
laureatehas been detained for 12 of the past 18 years and is currently
under house arrest.
The name of her deputy, Tin Oo, also under house arrest, was on the voters
list for another ward of the same township.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy insisted in a statement last month
that political prisoners held under emergency laws without being convicted
by a court have a legal right to vote. It said a ban on convicted felons
voting does not apply to such people.
The party has also called for voters to reject the military-backed
constitution, calling it undemocratic. Other critics of the ruling
military, including the US government and lobbying groups such as Human
Rights Watch, have criticized the draft charter for the same reason.
Detainees held under emergency laws include Suu Kyi and Tin Oo, as well as
prominent members of the 88 Generation Students activist group, which
helped organize last year's pro-democracy demonstrationsthe biggest in
almost two decades. The demonstrations were violently suppressed by the
The law governing the referendum prohibits Buddhist monks and nuns,
high-ranking Christian and Hindu officials, the mentally ill, people
living in exile and convicted felons from voting.
It is not clear if Suu Kyi would be able to leave home to vote, since
advance votingfor people unable to go the polls on the day of the
referendumis allowed. Advance and absentee voting overseas began last
A Rangoon election official was quoted last month as saying that there are
more than 4 million eligible voters in the city. The nationwide total was
There will be more than 2,500 polling booths in Rangoon, the
pro-government newspaper Myanmar Times reported, quoting Hla Soe, chairman
of the Rangoon Division Referendum Holding Commission.
Polling booths will be open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said.
May 2, Reuters
Myanmar "forces" civil servants to vote for charter - Aung Hla Tun
Hundreds of government workers in Myanmar have been forced to vote in
favor of an army-drafted constitution in non-secret ballots held more than
a week before a May 10 referendum, some of the workers said.
In one of the cases, about 700 employees in the Ministry of Electric
Power-2's Yangon office had to tick their ballot papers on Wednesday with
local referendum officials looking on, witnesses said.
"We were all shocked and some people were furious but they couldn't do
anything," one of those present said. The worker did not want to be
identified for fear of recriminations from the former Burma's military
"They said those who wanted to vote 'no' had to hand in their
resignation," the worker said.
The United States has already written off the vote, with President George
W. Bush saying it would not be "free, fair or credible" as he announced
new sanctions on Thursday against state-owned companies to put pressure on
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith also weighed in, saying the
entire process was "fatally flawed" and echoing the concerns of a host of
opposition groups that the charter was "intended only to entrench the
military's grip on power".
The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel laureate Aung San
Suu Kyi, has rejected the charter since it gives the army a quarter of
seats in parliament, control of key ministries and the right to suspend
the constitution at will.
SUU KYI "ON LIST"
Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest and incommunicado for the
last five years, appeared in the official voter list released on Friday,
suggesting she will able to cast her ballot, party members and witnesses
However, it is highly likely the icon of the democracy movement and
daughter of independence hero Aung San will be made to vote behind closed
doors and in advance to prevent her from appearing in public -- a
"Her number is 2281," one person who had seen her name at the bottom of
the 190-page list for her Yangon ward told Reuters.
Civil servants in Naypyidaw, the generals' new capital 240 miles north of
Yangon, also reported advance voting in which they were forced to endorse
"They even told us to ensure that all our family members vote 'yes'. I'm
really angry with myself because I couldn't do anything," one
middle-ranking officer told Reuters.
"I have to stick it out because of my family. I've never felt more
humiliated in about 20 years service here. I really wish I had voted
'no'," he added.
The constitution is a key component of a seven-step "roadmap to democracy"
that is meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010 and bring an
end to nearly five decades of military rule.
In a May Day (May 1) statement, the NLD reiterated its call for workers
and farmers to oppose the charter, while junta supremo Than Shwe urged
them to approve it.
"I would like to urge the mass of the workers to take part in the tasks of
whatever role they are in for approval of the draft constitution of the
Republic of Myanmar," he said in a message carried by state-run newspapers
(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
May 2, Democratic Voice of Burma
1990 representative given 3-year jail term
A 1990 people's parliament representative who was arrested on 28 April was
sentenced to three years and three months in prison by Depayin township
court two days later.
U Win Myint Aung, from Sagaing divisions Depayin township, was charged
with distributing obscene materials, according to Daw Khin Than of Monywa
township NLDs organising committee.
"U Win Myint Aung was arrested by authorities on 28 April and was
sentenced to three years and three months imprisonment on the 30th by the
township court under article 292(a) of the penal code and article 32(b) of
the video act," she said.
Win Myint Aung's co-workers in Depayin claim he has been imprisoned for
his political activities.
May 2, Irrawaddy
Military offensive affecting Karen children: KHRG - Saw Yan Naing
The ongoing military offensive by the Burmese army against ethnic Karen
rebels is affecting Karen children who spend much of their childhoods
living in fear, hiding in the jungle, enduring disease and malnutrition,
and suffering from a lack of education, said a leading Karen rights group
According to a 174-page report titled Growing up under Militarisation:
Abuse and agency of children in Karen State, released on April 30 by Karen
Human Rights Group (KHRG), an estimated 15,000 Karen children are among
the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living makeshift in the
malaria-ridden jungles of eastern Burma.
Forced laborchildren building a road in Nyaunglebin district in Pegu
division. (Photo: KHRG)
The report recorded more then 160 interviews with children and their
families between 2006 and March 2008, and it draws on the personal
testimonies of villagers living in Karen State.
Among KHRGs testimonies of abuse at the hands of the Burmese army, one
young girl was quoted as saying: The SPDC shot dead my daddy when he
tried to run away.
My mom carried my sister and some things and I
carried my grandmother on my back. It was very heavy for me
I saw her
eyes were very big and then I was afraid she had already died.
her until we found a better place for her.
At a press conference in Bangkok on April 30, KHRG also highlighted the
deteriorating situation regarding childrens rights in Karen State and
distributed copies of the report, DVDs with recent footage of displaced
children in Karen State and digital copies of photographs.
Rebecca Dun, the program director of KHRG, told The Irrawaddy on Friday:
It is very difficult for children to study in the jungle. They practice
writing on the ground or on the cliff faces. There are no educational
The displaced children dont receive sufficient medicine or nutritious
food when they feel ill, she said. Also, the Burmese army burns down Karen
villagers houses and farms and forces villagers to work as portersa form
of slave labor.
Meanwhile, a Karen labor advocacy group, the Federation of Trade Unions
Kawthoolei (FTUK) also released a statement on Thursday saying that Karen
villagers are facing human rights violations such as forced labor, forced
relocation and land confiscation.
FTUK said the offensive launched by the Burmese army was not only against
Karen rebels, but also Karen villagers, including women and children.
Since the current Burmese military offensive in northern Karen State began
in February 2006, more than 370 villagers, including children, have been
killed and more than 30,000 people have been displaced. Of those, more
than 5,000 villagers have fled to the Thai-Burmese border area, according
to relief groups.
The latest wave of IDPsmore than 2,000 Karen villagers from Mon and Kyauk
Gyi townships in eastern Burmas Pegu Divisionbegan fleeing to the jungle
in early April 2008 following attacks by the Burmese armys light infantry
battalions 247 and 276, according to the Committee for Internally
Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a Karen relief group.
The Burmese army has constructed over 60 new military camps in northern
Karen State since the beginning of its dry-season offensive in 2006 and
has completed a new road through Papun District, according to the another
relief team, the Free Burma Rangers.
May 2, Narinjara News
Burmese navy mobilizes for "yes" vote
Burmese sailors from Danyawaddy navy base in Kyaukpru, the largest navy
base on the Arakan Coast, recently started touring rural villages on
Rambree Island to campaign for the upcoming referendum, said a report.
The sailors traveled by ship from one village to another on the island.
The report stated that the navy authority formed groups of 10 to 15
sailors to mobilize people in remote areas of the island to cast "yes"
votes in referendum.
The villages recently visited by the sailors are Tan Kun Dai, Mru Byint
and Alan chaing . All are remote rural villages on the island.
During the tours, the navy sailors checked the list of voters and the
polling stations, and also held meetings with local people to urge them to
cast "yes" votes in the referendum, it was further stated in the report.
Some officials from the Kyaukpru Township government administrative
department accompanied the navy sailors to assist with campaigning for the
Burmese military authorities are currently working hard to gain victory in
the referendum, and have been using many ways to organize people to cast
"yes" votes in the referendum.
ON THE BORDER
May 2, Agence France Press
Cyclone lashes Myanmar after missing Bangladesh
A severe cyclone was expected to hit Myanmar's main city Yangon later
Friday after the storm missed neighbouring Bangladesh, meteorologists
Severe cyclone Nargis had already hit outlying coastal regions and was
packing winds of 120 to 150 miles (192 to 240 kilometres) per hour, Tun
Lwin, director general of the meteorological department in Yangon, told
The storm was centred about 210 kilometres west of Haing Gyi island at the
mouth of the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) river, or about 430 kilometres
southwest of Yangon.
"It started to hit Ayeyawaddy Division since this morning. It will hit
Ayeyawaddy, Yangon and Bago Divisions later today. The tide could be
increased by 10 to 12 feet (three to 3.5 metres)," he said.
Myanmar's state-run newspapers have run warnings about the impending storm.
Haing Gyi island could not be contacted for further information after it
The meteorological department said it was not yet known whether the storm
had caused any damage or casualties.
In Bangladesh, fishing crews have been been told to stay close to the
shore and not to venture into the Bay of Bengal, after fears it would slam
into the southeast coast.
But government forecaster Ayesha Khatun said the disaster-prone country
was likely to escape the impact of Nargis.
"It is not going to hit Bangladesh. It will hit Myanmar later today,
although the southern tip of Bangladesh could be affected," she said.
Bangladesh is still picking up the pieces after last November's
devastating cyclone Sidr which smashed into the southern coast, killing
more than 3,000 people.
Half a million people perished in Bangladesh in a cyclone in 1970. Some
138,000 died in 1991 in a tidal wave caused by a cyclone.
May 2, Shan Herald Agency for News
Workers call for rights on May Day Hseng Khio Fah
About 600 workers including 40 representatives from migrant work sites in
Chiangmai have drawn attention to their rights yesterday, at May Day
ceremony held in Lamphun, 30 km south of Chiangmai.
The workers' main demand is an increase in their wages, as basic
commodities have become expensive.
Everything is getting expensive day and day. But our wage is very small.
How are we going to cover it? That's why I am asking the deputy governor
to negotiate between the employees and employers about the pay," said a
representative of migrant workers.
Another one said, "Some employees refuse to pay us and say we are illegal.
But we are human like others. We would like to avoid these exploitations."
The government has to issue the law to protect workers rights to cover
every kind of employment particularly subcontracted workers and migrant
workers with real enforcement.
The government should provide Social Security Fund to cover for workers
including non-formal workers and other migrant laborers.
The government has to adjust fairly between employees and employers,
especially subcontracted employers.
The focus of their demands was the right of workers to have equal access
to minimum fair wage, medical treatment, rest and compensation for migrant
and non-migrant workers in Thailand.
According to the workers, employees have agreed with some of their demands
like increased pay, an increase of B 4($0.13) per day, but an official
response has yet to be announced.
May 2, Bangkok Post
Migrant workers go into hiding Supapong Chaolan
Around a thousand Burmese labourers in the southern province of Surat
Thani have gone into hiding in the mountains over the past week, following
rumours that Burmese soldiers had been sent to take them home to
participate in a referendum on a new constitution on May 10.
Oil palm and rubber plantations in Khiri Ratthanikhom, Tha Chang, Chaiya
and Phunphin districts and Wipawadi sub-district have been left without
workers during the peak harvest season.
A rubber farm operator who did not want to be named said even registered
Burmese workers packed their bags and fled after they received telephone
calls from their fellow workers.
He said he assured them that they would not be rounded up because their
employment was legally registered, but they insisted on going out of fear
of being prosecuted at home for illegally migrating.
"I said it was impossible for Burmese soldiers to arrest people on Thai
soil, but they did not listen. The visit of Burmese Prime Minister Gen
Thein Sein has intensified their fears," he said, referring to the Burmese
leader's three-day official visit which ended yesterday.
"We have not tapped rubber for almost a week in Surat Thani and
neighbouring provinces," he added.
Pol Lt-Col Sommart Kiangsin, deputy police chief of Khiri Ratthanikhom
district, said the rumours had been around for almost a week after three
men in a pick-up truck seized migrant workers' work permits at a palm
plantation and threatened them with a crackdown.
Those workers called their friends and the rumours quickly spread, he said.
"Customs officers and border patrol police did not claim responsibility
for the incident," he added.
Provincial customs office chief Pol Lt-Col Krit Sangpol blamed the rumours
on a recent inspection of a palm oil factory by administrative officials
and defence volunteers, who wore camouflage uniforms and carried shotguns.
Burmese workers at the factory were fearful of men in uniforms and went on
the run, he said.
BUSINESS / TRADE
April 2, The Nation
Gas pipeline in Burma leaks
PTT suspends the transmission of natural gas from Burma's Yetagun Field,
following the leakage of the pipeline.
Chitrapongse Kwangsukstith, senior executive vice president of PTT, said
that the gas field operator Petronas is fixing the problem but there is no
definite deadline. Due to the problem, the transmission of 400-500 million
cubic feet per day would be stopped.
Thailand receives 1,100 mcfpd of gas from Burma per day, including gas
from the Yadana Field.
"PTT has worked out with Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to
solve the missing supply of fuel for power generating. More bunker oil
would be supplied to the power plants," he said. Meanwhile, they would
also look into the gas supply contract to see who are to shoulder
responsibility for this.
Egat Deputy Governor Apichart Dilogsopon said on Thursday that Egat has
been notified of the problem and it has informed the Energy Ministry that
there would not be any disruption to power generating.
To replace the gas, more fuel oil would be used in the generating.
He also suggested that due to the problem, PTT should not stop gas
transmission during April 11-20, when the major pipeline maintenance is
May 2, Thaindian News
India urged not to back Myanmar referendum
India and China have been urged by Human Rights Watch not to give credence
to Myanmars May 10 referendum that the rights body said seeks to entrench
military rule. Conditions for a free and fair referendum do not exist in
Myanmar because of widespread repression, including arrests of opposition
activists, media censorship, bans on political meetings and gatherings,
and a pervasive climate of fear created by the ruling State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) in the run up to the referendum, Human Rights
Watch said in a report.
The Burmese generals are showing their true colours by continuing to
arrest anyone opposed to their sham referendum, and denying the population
the right to a public discussion of the merits of the draft constitution,
said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. International
acceptance of this process will be a big step backward.
The 61-page report, Vote to Nowhere: The May 2008 Constitutional
Referendum in Burma, shows that the referendum is being carried out in an
environment of restrictions on access to information, repressive media
restrictions, an almost total ban on freedom of expression, and continuing
widespread detention of political activists.
It highlights recent government arrests, harassment and attacks on
activists opposed to the draft constitution. The draft 194-page document
only available in Burmese and English was released just a month before the
The referendum is taking place just months after the military junta
violently crushed massive nationwide pro-democracy protests in September
Human Rights Watch called on the international community not to give any
credibility to the referendum process and to firmly insist on real reform
from the military rulers.
This referendum and the draft constitution it seeks to impose on the
Burmese people are designed to forever entrench more of the same abusive
rule that Burma has endured for nearly half a century already, said
The Burmese juntas friends, including China, India, and Thailand, should
not give any credibility to this process. If they do, it will simply
expose them to ridicule for having said they were committed to democratic
change in Burma.
May 2, Associated Press
Bush signs order to further crackdown on Myanmar Deb Riechmann
President Bush on Thursday froze the assets of state-owned companies in
Myanmar propping up the nation's military junta, which has been condemned
by the international community for suppressing pro-democracy dissidents.
"These companies, in industries such as gems and timber, exploit the labor
of the downtrodden Burmese people, but enrich only the generals," Bush
said about Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The new order allows the Bush administration to go after state-owned
enterprises something it previously didn't have the authority to do. The
U.S. government already has the power to go after individuals and
In remarks at the White House marking Asian Pacific American heritage
month, Bush said the military regime in Myanmar continues to reject the
will of its people to live under leaders of their own choosing.
"Over the past eight months, my administration has tightened sanctions on
the regime," he said. "We've imposed visa bans on the junta's generals and
their families and their cronies, trying to send a clear message, and we
hope the rest of the world follows as well."
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.
Its government has been widely criticized for human rights abuses and
suppression of pro-democracy parties such as the one led by Nobel Peace
Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for more
than a decade.
The ruling junta, run by Than Shwe, refused to honor the results of 1990
general elections won by Suu Kyi's party.
Last September, at least 31 people were killed and thousands more detained
when the military cracked down on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks
and democracy advocates.
Dissidents in Myanmar and exile groups elsewhere have urged voters to vote
on May 10 against the constitution, saying it is merely a ploy to
perpetuate more than four decades of military rule.
"The people of Burma have long awaited the opportunity to live in a true
democracy," Bush said. "The referendum vote scheduled for May 10, 2008
could have been that opportunity. However, Than Shwe and his regime are
ensuring that the referendum vote will be on a dangerously flawed
constitution, and will not be free, fair, or credible."
Bush said the military regime continues to ignore calls from the Burmese
people and the international community for a process that could result in
a legitimate constitution. "They continue to carry out a campaign to
intimidate voters, and to arrest those who dare speak out against the
flaws of the referendum and draft constitution," he said.
The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued an
order against Myanmar Gem Enterprise, Myanmar Pearl Enterprise and Myanmar
Timber Enterprise, companies owned or controlled by the state, said
Treasury Department spokesman John Rankin.
The action means that any assets found in the United States belonging to
the three companies are blocked. Americans are prohibited from doing
business with them. The rationale behind designating the three companies
is that they are an important source of money for the military regime,
"The United States will continue to pressure Burma's rulers until they
respond to the legitimate calls of the Burmese people for a genuine
dialogue leading to a democratic transition," Bush said.
May 2, Irrawaddy
Suu Kyi among 100 most influential people: Time magazine Lalit K Jha
The Burmese pro-democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been listed by Time
magazine as among the 100 most influential people of the world for the
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 years under house arrest, was
among a group of people including the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama; former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim; Chinese
President Hu Jintao; Russian President Vladimir Putin; and India leader
Sonia Gandhi in the magazines list of 100 most influential people of the
The US President, George W Bush, made a comeback to the list and the three
US presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain
are included on the list, which does not include Osama bin Laden, the most
wanted terrorist in the world; the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad;
and the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
Writing about Aung San Suu Kyi in the special issue, Oscar-winning actress
Anjelica Houston described her as "today's Mandela."
"Suu Kyi, 62, has been a courageous advocate for human rights and
democracy, and she is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize
recipient," wrote Houston, who has also been involved with the US Campaign
Terming the current regime as extremely brutal, Houston said: "It took
decades for us to come to Mandela's aid. Suu Kyiand the people of
Burmaare waiting to be freed now."
May 2, Earth Times
UN council urges political freedoms for all in Myanmar
The UN Security Council on Friday urged the military government in Myanmar
to respect the fundamental political rights of all people in the country
and to release all political prisoners so they can take part in democratic
activities. It called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the
National League Democracy, who has been under house arrest for more than
It said for the political process to be "inclusive and credible, the
government of Myanmar must respect fundamental political freedoms, release
all political prisoners and detainees, allow the full participation of all
political actors, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and take tangible and timely
steps toward a genuine dialogue."
The statement was read to the 15-nation council in an open meeting by
British Ambassador John Sawers, the council president for May.
OPINION / OTHER
May 2, The Japan Times
The rape of Burma: where did the wealth go? Sean Turnell
Burma, once the richest countries in Southeast Asia, today is mired in
deep poverty its economy ruined by nearly 50 years of economic
mismanagement under military rule. And yet, over the last few years Burma
has also emerged as a significant producer of energy in Southeast Asia.
Thanks to large fields of recoverable natural gas located offshore, Burma
now earns substantial foreign exchange revenues. At present, most of these
revenues ($1 billion to 1.5 billion per year, depending on price
fluctuations) come from Thailand. Gas from Burma, piped onshore from the
Gulf of Martaban, generates around 20 percent of Bangkok's electricity
If all goes well, new gas fields recently discovered in the Bay of Bengal
will provide even more gas for China's Yunnan Province. To get the gas
into Yunnan, a much longer pipeline running the length of Burma must
be built. The project will be as difficult as it will be controversial.
But, with no environmental or labor standards to contend with, few doubt
that the pipeline will proceed.
So, given its newfound energy riches, one might expect Burma's public
finances to be rather flush, with surpluses aplenty to spend on health,
education and much else that the country so desperately needs. Alas,
almost none of Burma's gas revenues actually feed into its budget, owing
to a rather ingenious device employed by the Burmese junta. The device is
simple. Like many countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, Burma has a
dual exchange rate system. The official exchange rate pegs Burma's
currency, the kyat, at a rate of six to one against the U.S. dollar.
The informal or black market exchange rate determines the value of the
kyat according to supply and demand in the marketplace. Trading kyat in
the black market is formally illegal, but it is the only way that people
unconnected to the regime can ever hope to come across foreign currency.
According to the informal exchange rate, the kyat's worth is currently
about 1,000 to one against the dollar. Given this dual exchange rate
system, hiding Burma's gas earnings becomes easy. By recording earnings at
the official exchange rate, they are worth nearly 200 times below what
they should be.
Thus, Burma's gas earnings of around $1.2 billion for 2006-07 are rendered
into a mere 7.2 billion kyat in the country's public accounts less than
1 percent of the regime's official public spending. Recorded at the market
exchange rate, however, these earnings translate into 1.2 trillion kyat
an amount large enough to eliminate Burma's budget deficit, as well as the
destructively inflationary money printing that is the regime's preferred
method of public finance.
So where do Burma's generals hide all the money they keep away from the
state's budget? No one but the generals knows for sure. An inspection of
the vaults of the country's Foreign Trade Bank might be a good place to
start, however, as well as those of some accommodatingly unscrupulous
Whatever the precise location of Burma's riches, these hoards enable the
junta to spend at its whim. A nuclear reactor, a new capital city,
military pay increases all of these and more have been on the menu of
late. The one group that almost certainly will not benefit from any of the
largesse is the Burmese people themselves, who are entitled to it and for
whom it would mean an end to lives of poverty and want.
Sean Turnell is professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney.
© 2008 Project Syndicate. www.project-syndicate.org
May 2, Mizzima News
Burma's referendum: a done deal that may yet unravel Larry Jagan
On May 10, Burma goes to the polls to vote on a new constitution; a
constitution that very few people have actually seen, and certainly one
which cannot be criticised publicly. The whole process is a farce
according to most independent observers, including the UN official
responsible for monitoring Burma's human rights situation for the last
But the new constitution is going to take the country into a significantly
new political era, even if the military leaders remain in power. A period
of massive change is inevitable. It will have major implications for how
the country is governed over the next two years, after which new
multiparty elections are scheduled to be held.
In the meantime the junta is taking no chances with the constitutional
referendum. They are harassing and intimidating voters, using scare
tactics. "The police called on our family last week and told us we had to
vote 'yes' or we'd go to jail for three years," a middle-aged mother in
Rangoon said on condition of anonymity.
"The whole process is surreal to have a referendum where only those who
are in favor of the constitution can campaign," the former UN Special
Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told Mizzima
in an exclusive interview.
International election monitors have been banned, and it is unlikely that
foreign journalists will be allowed in to report on the referendum. Both
these are essential if the referendum is to have any international
credibility, said Professor Pinheiro.
Although international observers were not permitted to observe last years'
constitutional referendum in Thailand, Burma's leaders need them if they
are to convince the world, let alone their own people, that the vote was
legitimate, according to Pinheiro.
"I think it would be unfair to compare the political system in Thailand
with the military government in Myanmar," he said. "After decades without
an election at least international observers could verify the conditions
of the vote. And the UN has a unit that just deals with elections, but the
military government has refused their help."
"To approve the state constitution is a national duty of the entire
people, let us all cast a 'Yes' vote in the national interest," state-run
newspapers have urged ever since the referendum was announced, exactly a
month before the poll.
The government is obviously leaving nothing to chance, and taking every
precaution to ensure the constitution is approved. In fact the government
is hoping for a unanimous vote, though that is inconceivable unless the
results are completely rigged, something which most diplomats in Rangoon
believe is highly likely.
Already there are reports of massive irregularities as voters go to the
polls to vote early. Some of the electorate have been given ballot papers
already marked with a 'yes' vote or the 'no' vote blacked out. Some civil
servants in provincial areas were told they had already cast their ballots
when they turned up to vote.
The military government has constantly promised that the voting process
will be transparent or as they describe it, held in a "systematic and
fair manner." However most analysts believe it will be anything but free
and fair. First of all the public or the opposition will not be allowed to
scrutinise the counting.
General Myint Swe, in charge of military intelligence and detailed by the
top military leader Than Shwe to oversee the vote, recently told a group
of military men and government officials in Rangoon that only the last ten
voters in the polling station when voting closes would be allowed to stay
and witness the actual count.
"These last 10 voters who can monitor the counting of the votes by the
poll commission members (around 15 people) will certainly be members of
the Union Solidarity and Development Association, who Than Shwe has
assigned the task of running the referendum and getting the result he
wants," said Win Min, a Burmese academic at Chiang Mai University.
In fact Burma's military ruler Than Shwe also rebuffed the Thai
government's offer to assist in running the referendum, an offer made
during the Thai Prime Minister's recent visit to the Burmese capital,
according to Thai diplomatic sources.
The junta knows that many people are inclined in fact to use the ballot as
a referendum on the military government, and are unlikely to support the
new constitution. To help control the vote, or more particularly, the
result, the regime is going to make the announcement of the results in the
capital Naypyitaw, and not at each polling station or even provincial
level as happened in the 1990 election, which the pro-democracy parties
National league for Democracy and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy
"This is very different from the 1990 elections, when the election results
were made public at each local polling station," remarked Zin Linn, a
former political prisoner and now spokesman for the Burmese government in
exile. "It means they will be able to manipulate the results to their own
But the whole referendum process is flawed. An extremely undemocratic
referendum cannot be a step towards multi-party democracy. "It is like the
Thai military seizing power in a coup as it did in September 2006 to
preserve democracy," a Burmese academic in Rangoon told Mizzima on
condition of anonymity.
The government is allowing no public debate during this referendum
campaign only arguments for the constitution are permitted to be heard.
The local media have been forbidden from reporting the 'no' campaign. The
new constitution cannot be criticised, and anyone who does is liable to be
sentenced to more than ten years jail. Those who recommend a 'no' vote
have been beaten up and more than a hundred young members of Aung San Suu
Kyi's party have now been arrested for wearing T-shirts that say "Vote No"
or handing out leaflets urging electors to vote 'no'.
Undeterred, the NLD is continuing its campaign of opposition to the
constitution. "For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to
encourage again all voters to go to the polling booths and make an 'x'
('No') mark without fear," the NLD urged voters in a statement released to
the press last week. But they conceded the whole process is a sham.
"An intimidating atmosphere for the people is created by physically
assaulting some of the members of (the) NLD," its statement said.
"A referendum without some basic freedoms of assembly, political parties
and free speech is a farce. What the Myanmar government calls a process
of democratization is in fact a process of consolidation of an
authoritarian regime," Professor Pinheiro told Mizzima.
The new constitution took the army more than fourteen years to daft. The
actual constitution was only revealed to the public a few weeks ago. It is
on sale at a 1,000 kyat a copy the equivalent of a dollar in a country
where more than 8 out of ten families live on less than $2 a day. But even
then it is almost impossible to find copies, according to western
diplomats who have been scouring Rangoon for them.
"You don't need to read the constitution to know its simply conferring
power on the military for eternity," said an elderly Burmese academic who
wanted to remain anonymous. "The choice is simple a vote in favour of
adopting the constitution means we want the military to play the leading
role in politics and run the county," he said.
Under the new constitution the president must be a military man, a quarter
of the parliamentary seats will be nominated by the army chief, key
ministries including defence and interior remain under military control,
and the army reserves the right to oust any civilian administration it
deems to have jeopardised national security.
Detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is effectively barred from
political office because she was married to a foreigner, the eminent
British academic and Buddhist scholar, Michael Aris, who died of prostate
cancer in 1999.
This all makes a mockery of the government's stated aim of moving towards
a multi-party democracy along its seven-stage road map. Burma's second in
command, General Maung Aye, recently told a parade of new recruits that
the constitution would pave the way for democracy.
"Comrades, it is the Tatmadaw [military] that is constantly striving for
the emergence of a constitution capable of shaping the multi-party
democratic system," he told the army recruits last week.
But legal experts and human rights activists insist the Burmese military
have got it topsy-turvy. Real democracy needs to be nurtured, including
freeing all political prisoners from jail, allowing political parties to
operate normally, guaranteeing freedom of the press and having an
independent judiciary. This is certainly not the case in Burma.
Professor Pinheiro, who has visited Burma many times since he was first
appointed UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Burma in 2000, is completely
"I've been following political transitions throughout the world, including
Asia for more than thirty years, and I am yet to see a successful
transition to democracy without a previous phase of liberalism," he said.
There isn't the faintest sign of that yet in the case of Myanmar."
In the seven-step roadmap outlined by Khin Nyunt when he was Prime
Minister, the step before the referendum was a period of liberalisation
and consolidation. This was when political prisoners were to be given a
general amnesty, political parties allowed to resume normal activities -
including the opening of all currently shut offices, and community
organisations permitted to flourish. Instead, Than Shwe has conveniently
skipped over this crucial step.
But if the regime is going to move towards multi-party democracy in the
next two years, they will have to resurrect this phase or face a major
dilemma after the referendum. The current ministers, many of whom have
already been assigned positions in the new civilian administrations that
are to emerge after the elections, will have to resign from the government
if they are going to run in the forthcoming elections.
The junta will have to seriously consider forming a transitional
government -- political parties have to be given a measure of freedom to
function properly, especially if they are to campaign in the elections
planned for 2010, as has already been announced.
"The junta will find itself in the same position as the Thai coup leaders
did in September 2006, they will have to install a neutral administration
to oversee the so-called transition to multi-party democracy," said a
Burmese academic. "And in today's Burma that will be a tall order. The
most sensible thing for them to do would be to engage the NLD and offer a
power sharing arrangement something Than Shwe at least will never
Unfortunately these steps are certain to be substantially delayed if there
is a significant "no" vote in next week's referendum. For although the
real count may not be made public, the top leaders will know they do not
have the support of the majority of the Burmese people. This could lead to
the top generals going back to the drawing board, even if the referendum
is already a done deal. For they would finally know what most Burmese know
already the military rulers are hated by everyone even by foot
soldiers, junior officers and their families.
May 2, Irrawaddy
With friends like these, who needs democracy?
It is a widely shared view among Burmese people and Burma observers that
the countrys upcoming constitutional referendum is a sham, intended only
to prolong military rule, and should therefore be rejected.
Are Burmas military leaders worried? Not at all. They know that they will
survive as long as they have the full backing of their closest neighbors,
Thailand, China and India.
Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Seins visit to Thailand just before the
referendum suggests that the regime intends to stay firmly entrenched in
power, with the help of its friends next door. That means more blood will
be shed on the streets before genuine democracy is restored to Burma.
Gen Thein Seins visit to Thailand showed that the junta has no shortage
of friends among its neighbors. His Thai hosts rolled out the red carpet
and made him a guest of honor at the prime ministers official residence.
Why? Because Burma is a major supplier of energy to Thailand, which is
also keen to expand its trade and business links with the regime. In
exchange for a few sweet business deals, Thai leaders were more than happy
to endorse the upcoming referendum.
Thai PM Samak Sundaravej, who returned from a visit to Naypyidaw in March
gushing about the good Buddhists who rule Burma, took the occasion of
Thein Seins visit to spout more nonsense.
Myanmars prime minister said they are holding the referendum on the
constitution because they want the world community to know that Myanmar is
a democracy lover, Samak said on behalf of his esteemed visitor, who
declined to speak to reporters.
The Thai prime minister went on to explain that the juntas deeply flawed
constitution was not so bad after all, if you judge by Thai standards.
Burmas democracy is similar to Thai democracy in the past 30 years,
which began with a half-democratic constitution, he said.
He quipped that Burma was only going to get a 50 percent democracy
because the draft constitution would keep detained opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi from holding elected office.
On Suu Kyi, Samak said, They are not releasing her, but they will not
interfere with her. They will put her on the shelf and not bother with
her, which is unacceptable to foreigners.
With his trademark sensitivity to others views, he added: We think its
ok if she is put on the shelf. But others admire her because of it.
While Samak was assuring his guest that he didnt care what the junta
chose to do with its nemesis, legislators in the US were making it clear
that admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi runs very deeply indeed. The US
Congress awarded her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold
Medal, placing her among the ranks of Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul
II, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
She has also been named one the 100 most influential people in the world
by Time magazine, which describes her as todays Mandela, noting that
she is the worlds only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Meanwhile, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama echoed his bosss
indifference to the fate of Burmas detained democracy activists when he
reiterated that Thailand sees the referendum as a step toward democracy
As relations between Bangkok and Naypyidaw grow cozier, Burmese both at
home and on Thai soil have reason to worry. Border-based aid workers and
diplomats believed that Thein Seins visit means more trouble for Burmese
refugees, internally displaced people in ethnic areas, NGOs working on
Burma issues and Burmese groups taking refuge in Thailand.
When former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001, many
Thailand-based Burmese groups were forced to close their offices, as
Thaksin moved to cultivate closer ties with the Burmese regime. Now that
Samak is reinstating many of the policies introduced by Thaksin before he
was ousted by a coup in 2006, there are renewed fears that Burmese in
Thailand will suffer harassment or worse.
There are already signs that the Thai government is responding to calls
from its neighbor to put pressure on dissidents based in Thailand. Earlier
this year, Karen rebel leaders living along the Thai-Burmese border were
taken for questioning by Thai Army officials. During the visit by Thein
Sein, a senior member of the Free Burma Rangers, a border-based group
actively involved in relief missions, was held for questioning.
The Burmese regime can probably count on the current Thai administration
to cooperate with its agenda of marginalizing those who would like to see
genuine change in Burma. But Thailand would do well to realize that change
will come someday, whether the junta wants it or not. If Thailand wants to
be a true friend to Burma, it will have to do more to ensure that the
Burmese people are not forced to settle for a 50 percent democracy.
May 2, White House
Statement by the President of the United States on Burma
The people of Burma have long awaited the opportunity to live in a true
democracy. The referendum vote scheduled for May 10, 2008 could have been
that opportunity. However, Than Shwe and his regime are ensuring that the
referendum vote will be on a dangerously flawed constitution, and will not
be free, fair, or credible. They continue to ignore calls from the Burmese
people and the international community for a genuine process that could
result in a legitimate constitution reflecting the will of the people, and
they continue to carry out a campaign to intimidate voters, and to arrest
those who dare speak out against the flaws of the referendum and draft
The regime has not acted on any of the measures called for by the United
Nations Security Council and does not cooperate with Special Advisor
Ibrahim Gambari. We have called for the early release of all political
prisoners; implementation of measures to address the political, economic,
humanitarian, and human rights issues that are of concern; and the
creation of necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an
inclusive national reconciliation. Furthermore, the regime has refused
offers from Mr. Gambari to provide technical assistance or international
monitors for the pending referendum.
Laura and I are committed to work for the people of Burma and help in
their struggle to free themselves from the regime's tyranny. I have signed
a new Executive Order that will block all property and interests in
property of designated individuals and entities determined to be owned or
controlled by, directly or indirectly, the Government of Burma or an
official or officials of the Government of Burma. This Executive Order
expands existing authorities that allow the United States Government to
target those who are responsible for supporting, empowering, and enriching
the Burmese regime - a regime that exploits and oppresses the people of
The United States will continue to pressure Burma's rulers until they
respond to the legitimate calls of the Burmese people for a genuine
dialogue leading to a democratic transition.
More information about the BurmaNet