Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Junta plans session on constitution

A SHAM?News that a final round of talks on a national charter would be held failed to impress those who see the move as window-dressing encouraged by the Chinese

AF , YANGON

Under pressure from China, military-run Myanmar will hold a final session of talks on drafting a constitution, but analysts dismiss the move as part of the junta's ongoing efforts to tighten its grip on power.

Myanmar said late on Tuesday it would reconvene its National Convention tasked with drafting guidelines for a new constitution next month.

"It will be the final session," Thein Sein, chairman of the convention and acting prime minister, told state media.

Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988 and the junta, headed by Senior General Than Shwe has been discussing a new charter on and off for more than a decade. The last charter talks were held in December.

Writing a constitution is the first step on the junta's "road map" to democracy that, in theory, would eventually lead to free elections in a country which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

But detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has boycotted the charter talks and the absence of her party in the convention has prompted the US, the UN and the EU to dismiss the proceedings as a sham.

Observers in Yangon had suspected the regime would hold the convention later this year and speculated the July charter talks were hastily arranged due to pressure from China.

"We know there has been Chinese pressure. There is discreet pressure from China since early spring to restart the political process," said a Yangon-based diplomat, who declined to be named.

China, Myanmar's staunchest ally, has always refused to join Western condemnation for the junta's rights abuses, saying it would not get involved in the "internal affairs" of the nation formerly known as Burma.

Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmese analyst based in neighboring Thailand, said the junta was under pressure from China to speed up its constitutional works.

"For China, the most important thing is stability in Burma, and China strongly believes that the Burmese military is the only institution that can provide stability in the country," Aung Naing Oo said.

"They don't care about contents of a new constitution. But they believe the constitution provides stability. That's why they want the military to be committed to the road map as soon as possible," the analyst said.

Aung Naing Oo warned the world should not be fooled by the junta's "road-map" to democracy, saying the new constitution would guarantee nothing but the legitimacy of the military.

"The constitution guarantees that no one can touch the military. The constitution is the best and the most valuable tool for the junta to maintain power," he said.

An Asian diplomat in Yangon also dismissed the junta's upcoming charter talks, which resumes on July 18, as "a show-off" ahead of an ASEAN meeting in the Philippines late next month.

"The timing of the convention seemed suspicious. The regime just wants to show off to the international community that it is taking positive steps on the constitution before the ASEAN meeting," the diplomat said.

"Fundamentally speaking, the National Convention does not change the very nature of the regime as a new constitution enshrines the role of the military in the country," he said.

The Yangon-based Western diplomat added the draft constitution was almost finished.

Next month's session will hammer out the final details of the charter including articles on elections, political parties, the state flag and the national anthem, Thein Sein said.

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