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Voters go to the polls in delayed referendum

May 26, 2008 (DVB), Voters in the postponed referendum in Rangoon and Irrwaddy divisions on Saturday have said they faced threats, intimidation and coercion from officials as they went to the polls.

The constitutional referendum was held on 10 May in most of the country but was delayed by two weeks in the 47 townships worst affected by Cyclone Nargis.

In South Dagon township in Rangoon division, a local resident said polling station officials had played very loud music and broadcast 'Vote Yes' propaganda over loudspeakers.

Cyclone victims were also targeted by the authorities in an attempt to gain support for the referendum, local residents said.

"The authorities collected ‘Yes’ votes in advance from the cyclone refugees living in poor conditions in camps," the South Dagon resident said.

"Also, some government authorities who arrived at refugee camps the refugees to only cast ‘Yes’ votes and that they will not be given food if they cast ‘No’," a resident of Kunchangone said.

The Kunchangone resident also said there was a military presence at the polling stations in the villages in the township.

"There are about five soldiers deployed in every village and local USDA and fire-brigade members were positioned in front of the polling booths. They told everyone who came to vote that they should vote ‘Yes’ no matter what," he said.

A resident of Thingangyun township said local authorities told voters they would face punishment if they voted against the constitution.

"Voters were threatened by local authorities who said any ‘No’ voters will be punished by three years imprisonment plus 100,000 kyat fine," he said.

A North Okkalapa voter said there had been confusion over who was eligible to vote in the referendum.

"The government told us they would announce the list of names of citizens who were allowed to vote in the referendum seven days in advance," he said.

"But the announcement was never actually made at local ballot stations and people were confused as to whether their names were on the list or not."

In Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, one resident said the ballot station in Tharyargone ward was nowhere to be found on the day of the vote.

A voter in Tamwe township said he was told how to vote by local officials who came to his house.

"Government officials arrived at our door and made us ticks the ‘Yes’ field of the ballot papers with the pen they brought along with them," the voter said.

It was a similar story in Dala township, where a voter said his ballot paper had been taken from him.

"When I went into the ballot station, I saw that Myint Myint San, the chairwoman of the local Myanmar Women Affairs Federation, was already in there," he said.

"She snatched the voting ticket out of my hands and checked the ‘Yes’ field."

Voters in Irrawaddy division also reported corruption in the lead-up to the vote on Saturday.

A Bogalay resident said some ballot papers had already been marked in favour of the constitution.

"Authorities collected ‘Yes’ votes from locals in advance the day before the referendum. Some voting tickets were already checked in the ‘Yes’ field."

The Burmese military regime has faced criticism for going ahead with the referendum despite the large-scale destruction and loss of life caused by Cyclone Nargis.

Prior to Saturday's vote, there were reports of refugees being forced to return to their devastated villages to vote, while other cyclone victims were thrown out of public building where they had sought refuge so that the authorities could use them as polling stations.

The junta claimed the constitution was approved by a 92 percent vote in favour after the 10 May ballots, which meant that the outcome of the referendum was already determined before voters in the remaining Rangoon and Irrawaddy division townships went to the polls.

Reporting by Aye Nai


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