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US Finds Serious Flaws in Burma's Draft Constitution


The U.S. State Department said Thursday Burma's new draft constitution provides little hope for real change in the military-ruled Southeast Asian country. To be voted on in a May 10 referendum, the draft would leave major power in the hands of the military. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States was an harsh critic of the Burmese constitution-writing process because it largely excluded the political opposition.

Now, the State Department says the draft produced by the country's long-running national convention provides scant hopes for those looking for democratic change.

Published Wednesday, the nearly-200-page constitutional draft would reserve one-quarter of the seats in both houses of parliament for military officers, and give the country's military chief the right to suspend the constitution at any time.

Another clause bars anyone who has been married to a foreign national from holding political office, a provision that appears tailor-made to exclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, once married to a British national.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials have made only a preliminary analysis of the draft but said a first reading indicates some issues of serious concern.

"It, at first glance, would appear intended only to perpetuate the rule of the existing military junta in Burma," he said. "It does not provide for the kind of open, serious and sustained dialogue with the democratic opposition forces in Burma that we as well as other members of the international community have called for, and that for example Aung San Suu Kyi has called for."

"So at first glance this draft constitution that the regime intends to put to a vote does not give much hope to those who are looking for real democratic change in Burma," he added.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, the NLD, won national elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power. The Nobel Peace Laureate has been under detention most of the time since then.

In comments Wednesday, President Bush said he was disappointed with political progress made in Burma, and said the military authorities need to understand that they should not fear their own people.

The NLD walked out of the 14-year-long national convention in 1995 because of restrictive rules and was later expelled altogether. It has urged Burmese to vote against the draft on May 10.

The military government Thursday accused the NLD of taking directives from unnamed foreign embassies which it claimed were trying to destabilize the country.

Asked about the charge of foreign meddling, State Department Spokesman McCormack called it a "canard."

He said Aung San Suu Kyi and others pushing for democratic change are Burmese patriots who had been working for a better future for the country long before the international spotlight became focused on them.

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