May 26, 2008 / 2:43 PM / 11 years ago

Myanmar's charter sails through referendum

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution sailed through this month’s referendum, with 92.48 percent of the vote on a turnout of 98.1 percent despite the carnage wrought by Cyclone Nargis, state media said on Monday.

The plebiscite, part of a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” that is meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010, was delayed by two weeks in cyclone-hit Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta, where 134,000 people are dead or missing.

“Under article 23 of the Referendum Law, it is announced that 92.48 percent voted in favor of the constitution,” state-controlled MRTV said.

The United States, which has offered $20.5 million in cyclone aid, has said it was “dismayed” the generals went ahead with a constitutional referendum in the middle of the disaster.

The military government was undeterred, holding a vote on May 10 in parts of the country not affected by Cyclone Nargis, which has left up to 2.4 million people destitute.

It later held a vote on May 24 in the devastated Irrawaddy delta and storm-ravaged areas in and around the former capital Yangon.

The process is meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010 and bring to an end nearly five decades of military rule in the Southeast Asian country.

The new charter gives the military an automatic 25 percent of seats in parliament, control of key ministries and the right to suspend the constitution at will.

The referendum, the first national vote since the 1990 election, which the generals lost by a landslide to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, has been widely derided by the opposition as a bid to entrench military rule.

The charter bans Myanmar nationals with foreign spouses or children from political office — a clause said to prevent the election of Suu Kyi. Her husband, now deceased but with whom she has two sons, was British.

In the runup to the first round of voting on May 10, NLD spokesman Nyan Win described a process “full of cheating and fraud across the country.”

Some voters complained their ballots had already been ticked by polling station officials when they arrived to vote.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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