Burma promises democratic elections
Military leaders' plans for a new constitution, followed by democratic elections, is met with skepticism and international criticism.
Military rulers in Burma (Myanmar) said this weekend they would hold a national referendum in May to approve a new constitution, followed by democratic elections in 2010, the first since 1990. The country's military junta was rebuked by the United Nations Security Council last October after violently repressing pro-democracy marches sparked by economic hardship. Since then, leaders have held sporadic talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hosted a senior UN envoy, while sticking to its own "road map" to restore democratic rule.Skip to next paragraph
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Burma is plagued by armed conflicts along its ethnically diverse borders and lags far behind most of its neighbors in economic development. It's also a major source of illicit drugs, including heroin and amphetamines. Its repression of its political opposition has soured ties with the United States, which, along with Europe and Australia, recently tightened sanctions on the regime. But Burma's natural resources have proved attractive to China, India, and other Asian countries.
A spokesman for the National League for Democracy, the party led by Suu Kyi that won the 1990 ballot only to see its victory annulled, told the BBC that the statement was "vague, incomplete, and strange," given that the election date was conditional on the constitution passing the referendum.
The New Light of Myanmar, a state-owned newspaper, carried in full two decrees issued by the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta is called, for the referendum and the 2010 elections.
The junta's handpicked convention finished its work on the proposed constitution last year but the contents remain largely unknown, the International Herald Tribune reports. The few details that have emerged suggest that the military would strongly guide any civilian government, with one-quarter of seats in parliament reserved for them. Criticizing the process of drafting the document is a criminal offense.