Myanmar's junta is gearing up towards a referendum on its draft constitution, which is supposed to lead to elections in 2010. But regime opponents have called on the population to boycott the junta’s constitution. As an alternative, they have drawn up their own, which was recently presented in Bangkok.
It is six months since the Myanmar's brutal crackdown on protesting monks
There’s agitation in the air in Myanmar. Dissidents have called on the population to reject the junta’s draft constitution and have launched an alternative campaign.
The regime’s critics say that accepting the draft constitution will only serve to further consolidate the junta’s power.
They are outraged by the fact that the proposed constitution prevents pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in elections. They also criticise the fact that a quarter of the parliament’s seats have been reserved for members of the military, who will thus be able to veto appointments.
People should reject draft constitution
Zin Linn spent years in a Burmese jail as a political prisoner. Today, he lives in exile in Thailand but maintains strong contacts with his home country and he thinks that people will not accept the draft which they have not yet seen.
“They will not accept this draft if it doesn’t allow Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the elections. People and especially youth groups are now delivering bulletins and pamphlets in Rangoon and other big cities. They are starting their movement,” he said.
Some dissidents have presented their own alternative constitution. One which is more balanced they say and which guarantees ethnic minorities political self-determination.
The women’s activist Thin Thin Aung is one of the co-authors: “We have tried to be more inclusive. All the opposition groups based on the border areas, resistance groups, armed revolutionary groups and political parties came together and drafted this constitution to show the international community, as well as our people inside in Burma, that we have a democratic constitution for the future of Burma.”
Lian Sakhong -- the General Secretary of the Ethnic Nationalities Council -- an exile group in Thailand -- said more equality would contribute to political stability.
“Our neighbouring countries will realise that this constitution will really bring peace and ethnic groups will not separate away from the union,” he said. “The union of Burma will not disintegrate, as the government has said, if democracy and peace come to Burma.”
Not so easy
But the junta is not likely to let any power be pulled from under its feet so easily. The generals will likely to their best to intimidate anybody who dares vote for the alternative constitution. They have already denied access to foreign election monitors.
Former political prisoner Zin Linn thinks time will tell how much power the generals actually have over the population: “There may be changes in some ways in 2008 because the people are very alert and also very angry. They do not want to accept the military junta’s constitution.
“They know they may suffer for another 50 years,” if they are forced to sign the constitution by force.
A new standoff in Myanmar seems unavoidable. But the chances of the pro-democracy movement are unclear. One thing is certain -- the way the global community reacts if there are more massacres this year will be crucial.