The Aizawl Post
Aizawl-May 20, 2008: The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by 92 percent of the people on the May 10 referendum with 99 percent eligible voter turned out while several rights groups and the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) led by noble peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi said that, voting in the May 10 constitutional referendum was fraught with threat, intimidation and manipulations by the authorities.

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) a leading human rights organization from western Burma, reports that the Chin people from several major towns in Chin state including their capital Hakha voted against the military-backed constitution amidst widespread coercion and intimidation by military authorities.

In Chin state all government employees were asked to vote in mandatory early polls or by mail-in voting before the actual voting date. These early voters are required to put in their names and national registration number on the ballot. There are reports of threats of employment termination and revocation of family registration for those found to have voted ‘No.’ In Kalay Township of Sagaing Division, where there is a significant Chin population, local officials were reported to have visited residences beforehand and asked people to fill in the ballot on-site along with their names and national registration number.

“In some polling stations, poll workers are clothed in white T-Shirts that have “Let’s Vote Yes” written on them in Burmese with illustration of a checked box. Elderly voters and people who cannot read Burmese are greeted by these workers and explained to them what they should do by pointing to the writings on their T-Shirts” said Terah Thantluang one of CHRO top officials who closely watched the referendum.

Since the beginning of April the military regime has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade voters in Chin State to approve its draft constitution. On April 4, Naypyidaw sent Major General Thura Aung Ko, Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs to Chin State where he urged Chin voters to vote for the new constitution saying, “It took the army 14 years to complete the draft and unless you approve this constitution, it will take another 14 years of military rule to prepare another draft.”

On April 10, the State Peace and Development Council held a mock referendum in Chin State capital of Hakha in which 150 people were randomly called in to vote. Over 80 percent of the people voted “No” in the mock poll, prompting Major General Hung Ngai, Chairman of Chin State Peace and Development Council to travel to several townships and distributing free rice to people in an effort to court Chin voters.

The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that about two weeks prior to the referendum, 16 army patrol columns consisting of several hundred Burmese troops no less than 300 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 226 (based in Hakha), LIB 268 (Based in Falam), LIB 228 (Based in Kalay Myo), LIB 89 (Based in Kalay), LIB 289 (Based in Teddim) and LIB 274 (Based in Mindat), were sent to remote areas along India-Burma border to campaign for the referendum. According to local villagers in these areas, Burmese troops threatened them with 3 years of imprisonment and 300, 000 Kyats in monetary fines for anyone found to have cast a “No” vote. “Your only way out of military rule is through voting “yes” in this referendum” was the army’s message to rural Chin public.

Seven arrests were reported in Thantlang and Paletwa Township in the days leading up to the referendum in connection with leaflets produced by opposition groups urging citizens to reject the constitution. Three were confirmed released after two days in interrogation. The fate and whereabouts of the remaining four remain unclear.

The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by more than 90 percent of the vote while 47 of the country’s 324 townships devastated by cyclone Nargis have had their vote postponed until May 24th.

“These reports only show how flawed the whole voting process is and how far the SPDC is willing to go to skew and manipulate the results in its favor. But we know that the majority of the people of Burma voted against it. And in Chin state in particular, we have closely monitored the voting and the Chin people from major towns including the capital Hakha voted against it” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization.

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