Wed 30 Apr 2008
Filed under: News,Regional
Thailand’s prime minister joked Wednesday that neighboring Myanmar is striving to become a “50 percent democracy” because the ruling junta’s draft constitution would keep detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from elected office.
Myanmar’s people will vote in a May 10 referendum on a proposed constitution that critics say is a sham designed to cement military rule.
One clause effectively bars Suu Kyi from power by stating that no one married to a foreigner can hold elected office. Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, is under house arrest and has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years.
“They will not release her. They’re keeping her on the shelf,” Thailand’s notoriously outspoken Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej joked while speaking to reporters after meeting with Myanmar’s Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein in Bangkok.
“This is the way of a 50 percent democracy,” Samak said.
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Thein Sein was in Thailand on a three-day visit and discussed the referendum with Samak.
“Myanmar’s prime minister said they are holding the referendum on the constitution because they want the world community to know that Myanmar is a democracy lover,” Samak said on behalf of Thein Sein, who declined to speak to reporters.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta says the constitution will pave the way for elections in 2010.
Myanmar’s main opposition party, Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy, has urged voters to reject the draft charter.
Opponents have staged scattered, mostly low-profile protests against the draft charter but harassment of pro-democracy activists and restrictions on freedom of speech have made a mass movement difficult.
According to Samak, Thein Sein said that once the constitution is approved the government will allow political parties to “form and develop. Those parties will run in elections, and after elections the military will pull out of politics.”
Despite his joking, Samak reiterated Thailand’s “support for the referendum and their efforts toward establishing democratic rule.”
Myanmar’s leaders “are confident they will be able to create political parties and politicians in two years,” Samak said.
Samak’s government has publicly voiced support for Myanmar’s military-backed draft constitution in spite of criticism from the United Nations and many Western countries.
Samak said that Thailand offered to have its election commissioners help manage the Myanmar referendum, but that Thein Sein did not respond.
The junta has also ignored the U.N.’s offers to send international election observers to oversee the referendum.