Myanmar announced yesterday that a constitution critics say will cement nearly four decades of military rule was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum held while the country was reeling from Cyclone Nargis.
The document was approved by 92.4 percent of the 22 million eligible voters last Saturday, Aung Toe, head of the Referendum Holding Committee, said on state radio. He gave voter turnout as more than 99 percent.
Voting was postponed in two regions battered by the killer cyclone until May 24, but results from the late balloting could not mathematically reverse the constitution’s approval with only a simple majority needed among a total of 27 million eligible voters.
The junta says a general election will follow in 2010. The document guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency.
The constitution would bar Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the pro-democracy movement, from public office.
The military refused to honor the results of the 1990 general election won by her National League for Democracy party.
Aung Toe said another 5 million citizens were eligible to vote May 24 in Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta, the region worst hit May 3 by Nagris, which the UN says may have killed more than 100,000 people.
Human rights organizations and anti-government groups have bitterly accused the government of neglecting cyclone victims to advance its political agenda.
Following the balloting, local journalists said they saw cases of intimidation of voters at polling stations around the country.
The fear of the military, which has ruled since 1962, was so great that few people were expected to vote “no” despite a campaign by pro-democracy activists to oppose the constitution.
The editor of a respected local newsmagazine who had reporters stationed around the country said the information he received showed the vote was not completely free and fair.
“The essence of secrecy is totally lost in some of the polling booths,” said the editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said irregular practices seen by his reporters included officials telling voters, “Don’t forget to put the tick, the right mark,” as they got ready to cast their ballots.
Some voting officials pulled aside the curtains protecting the privacy of the voting booths, in addition to asking voters to affix their fingerprints on the ballots.
Other journalists saw voters clutching three or four national registration cards, which they exchanged for an equal number of ballots.