Monday, March 31, 2008

Junta's draft constitution backs status quo


YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's draft constitution perpetuates military domination of politics and protects junta members from prosecution for past actions, according to a copy of the document obtained Monday.

Myanmar has been under mounting pressure over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The draft was completed in February and will go before voters in a May referendum. It has not yet been made public, but a copy of the 194-page text was obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft charter allots 25 percent of seats in both houses of parliament to the military.

It also effectively bars pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president or a lawmaker because she was married to a foreigner, maintaining a controversial clause from guidelines used to draft the charter. Her late husband, Michael Aris, was British.

Another clause in the draft protects members of the current junta, which has been in power since 1988, from legal prosecution for any acts carried out as part of their official duties.

In September a deadly government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and monks drew worldwide attention to the repressive regime, which has been under international pressure to make democratic reforms. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.

The ruling junta has also long been under global criticism for its detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

After it was criticized for the crackdown, the junta announced it would hold a referendum in May on the new constitution, followed by long-awaited general elections in 2010. The junta calls the process its "roadmap to democracy."

Critics have denounced the roadmap as a sham designed to perpetuate military rule, noting that the drafting process did not include Suu Kyi or members of her opposition National League for Democracy party.

The country's last election was held in 1990. The military refused to hand over power after Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide.

The draft constitution would legitimize a military takeover in the event of an emergency. It would empower the president to transfer legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military's commander in chief for a year if a state of emergency arises.

It also stipulates that the text cannot be amended without the consent of more than 75 percentof lawmakers -- making proposed changes unlikely without support from military representatives
in parliament.

The new constitution is supposed to replace the one scrapped when the current junta took power in 1988.

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