Myanmar activists launch "vote no" referendum campaign

Myanmar pro-democracy activists on Friday launched a "vote no" campaign, urging the population to reject the military-drafted constitution in a referendum planned in May. ( dpa )

A statement issued by The 88 Generation Students urged Buddhist monks, students and the people to vote against the constitution in the referendum planned for a still undisclosed date in May on the grounds that the country's new charter was drafted without public participation and will perpetuate military rule in the country.

"This constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests, wealth and security of generals and their cronies," said the statement. "This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma."

The 88 Generation Students comprises pro-democracy activists whose political careers started in the 1988 anti-military demonstrations, that ended in an army crackdown that left an estimated 3,000 people dead.

Many of the group's leaders, who were also linked to the more recent anti-government demonstrations that rocked Yangon last September, are now in jail.

Myanmar's ruling junta has pledged to hold a referendum to seek public approval for a draft constitution that will then pave the way for a general election sometime in 2010.

The military-appointed national convention set up by the regime to draft the constitution - a process that took 14 years - has been judged a "sham" by many international observers.

It is widely believed that the referendum will be similarly shambolic, as the regime can control a large portion of the population through threats and rewards.

"There is no clear indication of what the junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The junta is apparently planning to win anyhow," noted The 88 Generation Students statement.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who was in Myanmar last week, requested that the regime allow for international monitors to observe the referendum process and assure it is free and fair.

His request was rejected.

Since 1962, Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime that has earned itself one of the world's worst human rights records after two brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy movements in 1988 and last September. Thousands of political dissidents, including Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have been arrested under their rule.

The last general election held in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was in 1990. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Suu Kyi won that election by a landslide, but they have been blocked from assuming power for the past 18 years on the military's argument that the country required a new constitution before civilian rule could occur.

Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest in her Yangon home.

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