24 Apr 2008

U Attira accepts Index Award
Last Monday, Index on Censorship honoured Burma’s monks for their struggle against the ruling junta. The military regime is now cracking down on dissent as it pushes through a new constitution, writes David Jardine

Burma’s brutal ruling military junta will stage a national referendum on 10 May to rubber stamp a Potemkin constitution that will give the armed forces a guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in the national assembly.

The crucial home affairs ministry will remain in the hands of the junta, thus securing for it permanent control of the media.

The junta, led by General Than Shwe, is boastfully confident that it will secure the Yes vote that the all-out propaganda campaign of the state-controlled media is demanding. Anyone campaigning for a No vote faces arrest and almost certainly a long term of imprisonment in one or other part of the junta’s gulag, including the much hated Insein prison in Rangoon.

The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) Ang San Suu Kyi remains under Rangoon house arrest, her fate for 13 years, while party headquarters are regularly raided and documents seized.

Within the past two weeks arrests have been reported from Sittwe, a town in the western province of Arakan, of more than 20 activists wearing T-shirts with ‘No’ blazoned on them. The deeply insecure junta, for all its bravado, is running scared from a single syllable. The ‘men of the profession of blood’, as the writer William Hazlitt memorably describe the military, have all the means of intimidation at their disposal.

Meanwhile, state-controlled radio and television are reported to be pouring out an endless round of patriotic songs calling for a Yes vote. Despite all their media advantage, they may not have it all their own way. According to the Thailand-based opposition website the Irrawaddy, a poll conducted by telephone shows Rangoon residents to be largely indifferent.

Meanwhile, economic and social conditions deteriorate apace, as tragically demonstrated in early April by the suffocation of 54 Burmese crossing into Thailand in a sealed container lorry. Seeking a better life in Thailand, the surviving migrants now face deportation from there back to their benighted country.

The junta can rely on the support of both China and India as well as the acquiescence of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which it is a member.

The 10 May poll will not be subject to international observation and the junta plans, according to the Irrawaddy, to restrict Burmese public scrutiny of the count to the last ten voters in each polling station.

The nightmare that is military-ruled Burma goes on.

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