February 19, 2008 / 5:25 PM / 10 years ago

New Myanmar constitution gives military leading role

YANGON (Reuters) - Army-ruled Myanmar has finished writing a new constitution, to be put to a May referendum, which gives the military the “leading political role” in the future state, official media said on Tuesday.

“I hereby declare that the draft of the state constitution has been approved by this commission,” Chief Justice Aung Toe, chairman of the military-appointed drafting commission, was quoted as saying on state-controlled MRTV.

He said the commission had followed the basic principles adopted last year by a National Convention, also appointed by the military, which took more than 14 years to complete its work.

“In drafting the constitution, the commission adhered strictly to the six objectives, including giving the Tatmadaw (the military) the leading political role in the future state,” he said. The armed forces have ruled the former Burma since 1962.

He did not give more details of the charter, but previous state media reports suggest the army commander-in-chief will be the most powerful figure in the country, able to appoint key ministers and assume power “in times of emergency”.

It also gives the military a quarter of seats in parliament and a veto over decisions made by legislators.

Aung Toe urged the 54 commission members to campaign for the charter, the country’s third since it won independence from Britain in 1948.

A firm date for the referendum has not been announced.

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a 1990 election only to be denied power by the military, said on Monday the charter “will worsen the political, economic and social crises being faced in the country”.

The NLD boycotted the National Convention because of the continued house arrest of its leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 12 of the past 18 years under some form of detention.

The United States says the referendum will be a sham conducted in a “pervasive climate of fear”.

Dissident groups are already campaigning for a “no” vote, saying the charter is an attempt to legitimize the generals’ grip on power after 46 years of military rule.

The junta has accused pro-democracy and dissident groups of trying to tear the country apart, and urged the public to back its “road map to democracy”.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; editing by Darren Schuettler and Andrew Roche

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