Myanmar junta leader vows to press ahead with elections
(dpa) - Myanmar's military strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, reiterated Thursday his government's plans to hold a national constitutional referendum in May, followed by "multi-party democratic general elections" in 2010.
In a speech marking the country's 63rd anniversary Armed Forces Day at a vast parade ground in the new capital, Naypyitaw, Than Shwe said his ruling junta was determined to go forward with its so-called seven-step road map to democracy in a timely manner.
"The new Constitution has already been drafted," he told an audience of fellow-generals, government ministers and some 13,000 troops, "It will be put to a national referendum in forthcoming May and subsequently the multi-party democratic general elections will follow in 2010 in line with the provisions of the new constitution. The Tatmadaw (military) government will then be in a position to transfer the state power."
Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders and other civilian critics of the junta have denounced the new constitution as a sham, intended to perpetuate permanent military rule in the empoverished, diplomatically isolated country.
Myanmar's last democratic election, in 1990, was won in a landslide by the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence leader General Aung San, but the military ignored the results and imprisoned or exiled most NLD leaders.
In his speech, Than Shwe justified the military's tight grip on power by invoking the evils of British rule up to independence in 1948, which he said had "totally stunted" the country's development.
"Life (under the British was) so unbelievably bitter that it could not be understood just by the telling of the tale - one had to actually endure it to appreciate its bitterness," Than Shwe said.
Bitterness against domestic military rule bubbled up most recently in August and September of last year when a dramatic fuel price increase sparked mass protests in the streets of Yangon, the former capital.
The demonstrations, led by Buddhist monks, were crushed on September 25 to 27, leaving at least 31 people dead and triggering worldwide outrage against the junta.
The commemoration of Armed Forces Day marks the establishment of the national army in 1945 under independence hero General Aung San, whose contribution was conspicuously down-played in Than Shwe's speech.