Sunday, April 27, 2008

Myanmar Nationals in Singapore, Indonesia Vote on Constitution

By Katherine Espina

April 27 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar nationals living abroad began voting on whether the country's military government should be able to rewrite the constitution, an indicator of how a later vote within their homeland may proceed.

Citizens of the country formally known as Burma lined up in front of their embassy in Singapore for the third day to cast ballots in an April 25-29 vote. In Indonesia, voting started at 9:30 a.m. today and will end at 4:30 p.m. local time. The referendum in Myanmar is May 10.

The Myanmar referendum marks the first time citizens have voted in 18 years. Myanmar's junta says the vote is designed to pave the way for democratic elections in 2010, while the U.S. State Department said April 11 it's an attempt by the military to retain power.

``The destiny of Myanmar temporarily lies in the hands of our people and not in the hands of the military generals,'' said Myo Myint Maung, a spokesman for the Singapore-based Overseas Burmese Patriots, an activist group. ``This is a special occasion, a short-lived moment of democracy even if results won't be favorable to the future of our nation.''

Some voters in Singapore today wore T-shirts that read, ``We pursue peace, justice and democracy for Burma.'' Hundreds of people have voted in the city state, Myo said. In Indonesia, four people showed up to cast ballots two hours after voting started, Jamil Setiawan, a security guard at the embassy in Jakarta said. Calls to the embassy were unanswered.

Ten demonstrators demanding all Myanmar citizens overseas should have the right to vote were injured in a scuffle with Japanese police yesterday in Tokyo, the Associated Press said in a report. Officials at the Southeast Asian nation's embassy gate in Tokyo declined to comment and phone calls to the embassy were unanswered.

The referendum is the ``government's effort to legitimize military rule in Myanmar,'' London-based rights group Amnesty International said last month.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party on April 2 called on voters to reject changes to the constitution. The modifications would bar Suu Kyi from holding office and ensure the military is represented in parliament, the Associated Press reported, citing a draft.

International condemnation of Myanmar's military government has increased since it deployed soldiers in September to end anti-government protests.

Myanmar, which has a population of 47 million, has been under military rule since 1962.

To contact the reporter on this story: Katherine Espina in Singapore at

Last Updated: April 27, 2008 02:26 EDT

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