Myanmar generals force vote despite cyclone crisis

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Myanmar’s leadership held a constitutional referendum on Sunday. As the country is still reeling from deadly cyclone Nargis which has claimed at least 70,000 casualties and displaced over 2 million people. The regime received sharp criticism from Myanmar specialist Larry Jagan who claims top general Than Shwe "only cares about his own priorities." The referendum is seen as a fait accompli and would guarantee the military junta 25 percent of the seats in parliament, allow the president exclusive power in the event of a state of emergency, and would bar Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi from running for public office.

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Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRODUCER/PRESENTER: Angering its critics, Myanmar’s military junta held a constitutional referendum on Sunday. The country is still reeling from the aftermath of the deadly cyclone, which has claimed 70,000 and displaced over two million people. The referendum seeks to guarantee 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military, and would allow the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency, elements critics say defy the junta’s professed commitment to democracy. Provisions would also bar Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the country’s pro-democracy movement, from public office. The yes vote appeared set to win an overwhelm approval [sic] in the referendum, in which there was visible intimidation of voters, according to witnesses. Larry Jagan, a political analyst in Bangkok, said that even if the junta announced a victory for the yes vote, many people would have voted against the referendum.

LARRY JAGAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: We know they’re going to announce a yes vote, possibly more than 80 percent. But the reality is, having spoken to many people at the polling stations, that the no vote was very strong. I think what was most interesting was that in Rangoon, the places in Rangoon where they were allowed to vote, there was a very low turnout. People are angry that after such a major catastrophe as the cyclone they were forced to go and vote on this referendum.

NKWETA: Jagan said Myanmar’s leadership had prioritized the referendum at the expense of its own people.

JAGAN: I think it shows that the top generals do not care about the Burmese people. They do not care about the suffering that’s going on in Rangoon and in the delta. They don’t care that more people may die. The top general only cares about his own priorities, which was the referendum.

NKWETA: Myanmar’s general elections are set to take place in 2010.

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