Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Analysis of Military Junta's Referendum

Monday, May 12 2008, 04:29 PM EDT
Even before the referendum was held, public service personnel and members of the armed forces, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, fire brigade and the national Red Cross were told that since they might have to travel on duty on the day of referendum, they needed to vote in advance. All these voters were made either to vote in the presence of or to hand over their completed ballot cards to the authorities, leading them without option but to support the constitution. The advanced voting took place in army battalions, government offices, and state-owned factories through out the country in April and May.

Analysis of the Military Junta's Referendum

The Burmese generals, ignoring widespread human suffering caused by cyclone Nargis and rejecting the appeal of the UN Secretary-General went ahead with the constitutional referendum in the midst of the humanitarian crisis. The referendum was held in the whole country on 10 May with the exception of townships affected by the cyclone in Rangoon and Irrawaddy Divisions.

In its earlier issue of the "Referendum Watch", The Burma Fund has already informed the international community about the flaws in the referendum law and the military's utilization of the state machinery, resources, and media as well as the use of intimidation, harassment, arrest, and physical attacks to ensure that the proposed constitution is approved by the referendum.

Even before the referendum was held, public service personnel and members of the armed forces, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, fire brigade and the national Red Cross were told that since they might have to travel on duty on the day of referendum, they needed to vote in advance. All these voters were made either to vote in the presence of or to hand over their completed ballot cards to the authorities, leading them without option but to support the constitution. The advanced voting took place in army battalions, government offices, and state-owned factories through out the country in April and May.

The informal network of The Burma Fund monitored the referendum on 10 May and here are their findings:

The general atmosphere on 10 May was quite different from that of the general elections in 1990. People then were enthusiastic and long queues could be seen at the polling stations as people were eager to vote. A festive mood prevailed then because people believed that their votes would bring about democratic changes in Burma. Not too many voters were at the polling stations this time round and at times, there were more guards than voters. People had looks of anger, fear and desperation without displaying any enthusiasm. Team members report about many polling stations closing early around 11:00 am even though the official closing time is only at 04:00 pm.

Even though the referendum law and rules and regulations governing polling station officials were promulgated by the military government, there were blatant violations of these legal rulings.

Polling station officials in many areas were local authorities. Furthermore, members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association and/or National Red Cross Society who were not official polling station staffs were deployed around poll stations. From time to time, they were seen to be accompanying voters into the polling booths and guiding them to vote "Yes".

In many regions, local authorities went house to house the night before the referendum to collect advanced votes from the local people. Voters were forced to tick 'yes' on the ballot in their presence. Polling stations were closed early and those came to vote were asked to either vote at the offices of the local authorities or return home because their votes had already been collected in advance.

Local authorities retained national identity cards and bank books from farmers (the bank books are needed for borrowing agricultural loans from government banks). The IDs and banks were returned to the farmers only after they had ticked "yes"" on the ballot cards in the presence of the local authorities at the local Peace and Development Council offices.

Polling station staff members were seen handing out ballot papers that had already been checked in favor the constitution. Voters were compelled to sign to register their presence and their pre-voted ballot cards placed into ballot boxes in front of authorities.

In some areas only one member of the household was asked to come to the polling station and forced to vote "yes" for all eligible voters in the family.

Local authorities went around village/town announcing through loudspeakers that those who voted against the constitution would face legal action and imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine of 10,000 Kyats. Misinformation campaign about such legal action was launched in some regions to create fear among the uneducated and not well informed people in rural areas.

In many areas, NLD members insisted on joining the vote counting process as observers as required by law but they were denied. Heated arguments ensued and NLD members filed official complaints to the higher level referendum sub-commissions about the violation of referendum law and regulations.

Thakin Soe Myint, chairman of the Rangoon Division NLD Organizing Committee, and Joint Secretary Dr. Myo Aung were prevented from traveling to Hmawbi, Taikkyi and Tantabin Townships to observe the referendum. They were stopped by police at a tollgate near Hmawbi and forced to return to Rangoon without giving any reason. Three NLD youth members who informally observed the referendum were also arrested.

The referendum organized on 10 May was neither free nor fair and it violated all internationally accepted norms. The Burmese military and its agents manipulated the process using all available means. The Burmese generals are expected to announce an "overwhelming" result in their favor which was achieved through extensive fraudulent practices.

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