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Burma: Monks will have no right to vote

The First Post, March 24, 2008

Monks lumped in same category as criminals and the mentally ill

Rangoon, Burma -- Burma's 400,000 Buddhist monks and nuns have been categorised along with the country’s convicted criminals and mentally ill so that they are barred from voting in the upcoming national referendum on the regime's draft of a new constitution, writes Edward Loxton for The First Post. Representatives of the country’s Christian and Hindu communities are also excluded from casting ballots in the referendum, due to be held in May.

The exclusion clause is contained in new legislation signed by junta leader General Than Shwe. The legislation also threatens imprisonment or heavy fines for anybody who publicly opposes the referendum or interferes with its planning. Any such public criticism of the referendum – including the distribution of critical posters and pamphlets - is punishable by up to three years' jail.

A commission of 45 officials with close ties to the junta is to be given the task of organising and supervising the referendum. It will be assisted by members of a paramilitary organisation that played a big role in breaking up last September’s demonstrations, which were led by the country's monks.

The referendum is to be followed in 2010 by a general election, although the regime is working hard to make sure the electoral roll excludes known opponents of the regime—including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Rangoon.

The 88 Generation Students group, one of Burma’s most active anti-regime movements, and the All Burma Association of Buddhist Monks have called for a boycott of the referendum and the election. "If the authorities force people to go to the polling stations to vote in the referendum we will call on them to vote No," Soe Tun, one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, told the exile magazine Irrawaddy.

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