Cyclone-delayed referendum held in Myanmar

Other News Materials 24 May 2008 07:34 (UTC +04:00)

Residents of 47 Myanmar townships hard-hit by Cyclone Nargis earlier this month went to the polls Saturday to vote in a referendum on a new constitution that promises to consolidate military rule in the country, the dpa reported.

A national referendum was held on May 10 on the military-backed charter, despite international appeals to postpone it in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, that left at least 133,000 dead or missing.

But the vote was delayed in 47 townships hardest hit by the storm, that has affected up to 2.4 million people, especially those living in the Irrawaddy delta.

According to the government's count, some 92.4 per cent of the populace voted in favour of the charter on May 10, an outcome most observers have described as a "sham."

"There is no need to go and vote because the referendum has already won by 92.4 per cent", said Ko Soe Soe, a Yangon voter.

The lead-up to the referendum was marred by a nationwide "vote yes" propaganda campaign by the government, accompanied by intimidation and arrests of opponents to the charter.

In February the ruling junta passed a law making it illegal to publicly criticize the new constitution, which will essentially grant the military control over the upper and lower houses in an elected government.

Myanmar's ruling regime has promised to hold an election by 2010.

The charter has barred opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding office as she was married to a foreign national, the late Michael Aris, an Oxford professor.

Myanmar authorities on Friday allowed Suu Kyi to cast an "advance vote" at her home, where she has been under house arrest for the past five years.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been under house arrest since May 30, 2003, after authorities charged her with threatening national security after pro-government thugs attacked her and her followers in Depayin, northern Myanmar, killing 70 Suu Kyi supporters.

Suu Kyi is kept incommunicado in her family home and has been unable to comment publicly on the cyclone devastation or the junta's response to it.

The government has come under harsh international criticism for impeding an international disaster relief effort for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, and for going ahead with the self-serving referendum despite the catastrophe.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Myanmar Thursday to assess the devastation, has estimated that three weeks after the storm aid has reached only 25 per cent of the estimated 2.5 million people affected by the disaster, a poor performance blamed primarily on the junta.