Mixed international response to junta's election plans

Feb 12, 2008 (DVB), The international community has given a mixed reception to the Burmese regime's announcement that a constitutional referendum will be held this year, followed by a general election in 2010.

The announcement met with criticism from the US and UK, while the Singaporean government took a more positive line.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon gave a neutral response, calling for an open and broad-based constitution-drafting process.

"[T]he Secretary-General renews his call to the Myanmar authorities to make the constitution-making process inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to ensure that any draft constitution is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Myanmar," a UN statement said.

The secretary-general reiterated the UN's commitment to supporting national reconciliation in the country, but stressed the need for a "substantive and time-bound dialogue" with detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other parties.

Ban Ki-moon also stressed that UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari should be allowed to return to Burma as soon as possible.

Gambari has said he is negotiating with the Burmese regime to bring forward his next visit from the junta's proposed timing in April.

US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said that plans for a referendum were undermined by the continued arrests and detention of political activists.

"No referendum held under these conditions , a pervasive climate of fear, in which virtually the entire opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, is under detention and the Burmese people have not been allowed to participate in, or even discuss, the drafting of a constitution , can be free, fair, or credible," he said.

The White House press secretary Dana Perino took a similar line, stating that the proposed constitution would not be representative of all sections of Burmese society.

"The Burmese junta’s announcement that it will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May demonstrates its lack of seriousness about an open and fair process for the restoration of democracy," Perino said.

"The drafting process for the constitution has not incorporated the views of opposition views parties or all ethnic groups," she explained.

"Nor does the time frame allow for adequate debate on the pros and cons of the proposed constitution, which has not yet been shared with the Burmese public."

Perino also criticised aspects of the draft constitution as anti-democratic, including an article which would reportedly bar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office because she had married a foreign national.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office also said that there needed to be a genuine and inclusive national reconciliation process.

"The transition to democracy in Burma requires the participation of all political stakeholders," an FCO spokesperson commented.

"Political leaders in Burma have not been consulted on the constitution or the election process."

The FCO called for the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners to allow them to engage in the political process.

"Together they should work on the road to democracy and a secure future for Burma," the spokesperson said.

However, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a cautious welcome to the regime's announcement.

"This is a positive development. We hope that the Myanmar government will ensure that the political process is an inclusive one that would lead to peaceful national reconciliation in the country," an MFA spokesperson said.

Reporting by Si√¢n Thomas

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