Myanmar declared victory yesterday for a military-backed constitution, pressing ahead with its political agenda despite the devastation caused by the cyclone that left 133,000 dead or missing.
Though more than half of the 2.4 million people severely affected by the cyclone have not yet been reached by international aid, the ruling junta claimed nearly all of them cast a ballot.
“The suggestion that the areas affected by the cyclone got 93 percent turnout just highlights what nonsense the process is,” said John Virgoe, Southeast Asia director for International Crisis Group.
“The way this has been done can’t in any way represent the true wishes of the people because it wasn’t a free and fair vote,” he said.
Cyclone Nargis pounded the country more than three weeks ago, destroying entire villages in the Irrawaddy Delta area in the country’s southwest and pounding the main city of Yangon.
Some 4.5 million voters in the cyclone zone were eligible to cast ballots on Saturday in a second round of voting. State media said 93 percent turned out for the poll, with 92.93 percent endorsing the charter.
A first round of voting had been held on May 10 in regions spared by the storm.
Nationwide, state media said the constitution was approved by 92.48 percent, with a 98 percent turnout.
Myanmar ignored international calls to delay the referendum and those whose homes had been destroyed said they were forced out of schools where they had sought shelter so classrooms could be used as polling stations.
The US said on Sunday it was “dismayed” that Myanmar’s military rulers had held the second round of voting in regions still devastated by the cyclone.
“The United States is dismayed by the fact that, in the midst of a major humanitarian disaster, in which a majority of those affected have not received assistance yet, the Burmese regime conducted on May 24 a second round of voting on its draft constitutional referendum in the five regions affected by the cyclone,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement.
Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed back to New York yesterday, saying he hoped the junta would honor its promise to open up cyclone-devastated areas of the country to foreign aid workers.
Ban’s mission to knock down Myanmar’s barriers to international cyclone assistance climaxed on Sunday when donor nations offered more than US$100 million to help the country recover from Nargis.
But they warned the ruling generals they would not fully open their wallets until they were given access to the hardest-hit areas.
“We have seen that the Myanmar government is moving fast to implement their commitment. My sincere hope is that they will honor their commitment — that we have to see,” Ban told reporters before leaving Bangkok for New York on Sunday night.
How quickly Myanmar embassies around the world issue visas to international aid workers lining up to enter the country will be an important litmus test of the junta’s sincerity in allowing access.
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