Dissidents Decry Burmese Junta's Election Plans

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

RANGOON, Burma, Feb. 11 -- Two of Burma's top dissident groups, one led by Buddhist monks, on Monday denounced the military government's plans for a constitutional referendum as an effort to perpetuate the junta's rule.

The All-Burma Monks Alliance and the 88 Generation Students group, both major organizers of last year's pro-democracy protests, said the government instead needed to hold reconciliation talks with the opposition party of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and with representatives of ethnic minority groups.

The student group called the plans a "declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma."

Last week, the government announced the May referendum and a general election in 2010. It was the first time it has set dates for specific steps in what it calls a road map to democracy in the country, officially known as Myanmar. It said it was scheduling the general election because "the time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule."

The move won little applause from foreign governments, which questioned the junta's sincerity because its plans for democracy have so far failed to include Suu Kyi and other political voices.

"We're not persuaded that this is anything more than a cynical sham," said Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Some people in Burma, however, felt it was a small step forward. "I will vote for the constitution as it is better to have a constitution than not having any at all," said Tint Lwin, 57, a university lecturer.

Guidelines for a new constitution were adopted at a military-managed national convention last year. A government-appointed commission is drafting the document. The guidelines would give the military a major role in politics.

Burma's most recent general election was conducted in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power to the winning party, the National League for Democracy, led by Suu Kyi. She has been under house arrest or in prison for more than 12 of the past 18 years and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Foreign governments increased pressure on the junta, officially called the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, to hasten political reform after it violently quashed peaceful mass protests in September. The United Nations estimates that at least 31 people were killed and thousands were detained.

"We reject and denounce the SPDC announcements as they ignore the aspirations and wishes of the people and are an attempt to perpetuate the military dictatorship," said an e-mailed statement from the All-Burma Monks Alliance.

Most of Burma's 56 million people are Buddhists, and monks are influential.

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