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Myanmar junta to jail anyone who disrupts constitutional referendum

Myanmar junta to jail anyone who disrupts constitutional referendum

Anyone who distributes leaflets or makes speeches against Myanmar's constitutional referendum can be imprisoned for three years under new rules governing the May vote published by state media Wednesday.
The Constitutional Referendum Law also allows for voting to be postponed or canceled in places affected by a "natural disaster, security breach or other harm that could endanger the holding of a free and fair referendum."
On Feb. 9 the government announced its plan for the referendum _ the first time the junta has set any date for a step in its earlier-announced "roadmap to democracy." General elections are supposed to follow in 2010.
Critics say the junta's plans are undemocratic because they did not include input from opponents of military rule, especially the opposition National League for Democracy party led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD won the last general elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.
The junta's opponents also complain that guidelines earlier adopted for writing the new constitution are designed to perpetuate military control and prevent Suu Kyi from running for office. The text of the proposed constitution has not yet been released, although a committee hand-picked by the military completed it on Feb. 19.
Myanmar has not had a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.
The 12-chapter referendum law covers the preparation of electoral rolls, voting, postponement and cancellation of voting, vote counting, announcement of the results and punishment for violations of its statutes.
The law, enacted Tuesday and published Wednesday in Myanmar-language newspapers, carries a three-year prison term and a fine of 100,000 kyat (US$86; euro57) for anyone who makes speeches or distributes leaflets to disrupt the voting process, the newspapers said. Tampering with ballot boxes carries the same penalty.
Monks, nuns, high-ranking Christian and Hindu officials, the mentally ill, people living in exile, convicted felons and foreigners are not eligible to participate in the referendum under the law. Islamic clergy are not mentioned, so can apparently vote.
Ballot boxes will be opened at polling stations and votes will be counted by polling booth officers in the presence of at least 10 eligible voters, the newspapers said. There was no mention of independent observers being allowed to oversee voting or ballot counting.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has long been under international pressure to make democratic reforms, particularly since it crushed peaceful mass protests last September. The United Nations estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.
Suu Kyi's party said last week that the ruling junta's unilateral announcement of the constitutional referendum and elections was undemocratic and could hurt national stability.
It stopped short, however, of advocating a boycott or a "no" vote for the proposed constitution.
The constitutional guidelines bar Suu Kyi from running in elections because she was married to a foreigner _ her late British husband, Michael Aris _ and enjoyed the privileges of a foreign national.
Many Western nations, including the United States, maintain political and economic sanctions against the junta because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.


Updated : 2021-04-15 04:08 GMT+08:00