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Myanmar people exhorted to reject new constitution
The Myanmar military junta's insistence that the country's populace approve the new constitution and the not so subtle pressure being applied to that end is not going down well, has brought political parties out in the open and voice their dissent.
OPPOSITION TO the Myanmar military junta's referendum to have the people of the country approve the draft constitution is gaining momentum. National political parties, diverse groups and many ethnic armed groups who may or may not have a ceasefire with the military regime are slowly but surely raising their voice against the new constitution and appealing to the people to reject it by casting 'No' votes.
 
Getting the act together in military ruled Myanmar is a daunting task. Yet the main opposition political party the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained democracy icon and Noble Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, after initial silence on the issue, has urged the people of Myanmar to cast a 'No' vote in the referendum slated to be held in May. The NLD firmly believes that the draft constitution favours the perpetuation and legitimisation of military rule.
 
Pro-democracy forces both inside Myanmar and in exile have been exhorting people either to boycott the referendum or cast a vote rejecting the draft constitution on the ground that it was drawn up by a 1,000-odd handpicked people of the junta and did not have the consent of the people's representatives of the 1990 general elections which went unrecognized by the regime. The junta denied handing over power for almost 20 years, refusing to accept the poll results where the NLD won an overwhelming majority, cornering over 80 per cent of the seats. The junta now plans to hold fresh elections in 2010.
 
Groups and parties opposed to the junta, one way or the other were kept out of the tenuous 14-year long national convention, which finally drafted the constitution.
 
The NLD's latest statement against the referendum shores up the stance of pro-democracy forces against the draft constitution and the junta's desperate attempts of having it approved.
 
The NLD's contention, which is shared by other political parties and groups, is that the constitution has no validity because it was drafted by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) on the lines they wished to. The party requested the people to visit the polling stations and resoundingly cast a vote which says 'No' to the new constitution as it is contrary to generally conceded norms and principles, and refrains from ensuring equal rights and denies the people sovereignty, the media in exile reports.
 
It has been on the cards for quite some time now that the Myanmar Army has drafted the constitution so that it may play a leading role in governance.  The President and Vice-President need to have a military background. The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces will directly appoint three people to key ministerial berths and the army will corner a majority of seats in the National Defence and Security Councils. The new constitution ensures that the army exercises full control over the administration of all military affairs and reserves 25 percent of the seats in both houses. Seventy-five percent of the Members of Parliament in both houses are needed for any constitutional amendment.
 
The NLD has circulated these clauses in a bid to make the people aware.  NLD youth members are trying to mobilize people in the country to cast a 'No' vote in the referendum. The draft constitution also has provisions, which ban NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the polls.
 
More and more groups have been urging the people to reject the constitution. Among them are ethnic armed groups like the New Mon State Party, the Karen National Union, the Myanmar Muslim Organization and the Kachin National Organization (KNO) to name a few.
 
The arguments are the same, that the draft constitution does not represent the ethnic people of Myanmar, adheres to no democratic principles and is a lever for the junta to continue its stranglehold on power.
 
The KNO, for instance points out that the future and the image of the country hinges on the constitution. Thus the people ought to have a say in its drafting and the right to free criticism and discussion.
 
Worse the people are not even aware of the contents of the constitution. So it is not possible to accept the constitution leave alone support it, the Myanmar Muslim Organization told the media. It added for good measure that one hundred percent of the Muslim people in Myanmar have no love lost for the junta.
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