Myanmar Junta Publishes Proposed Constitution, Would Ban Nobel Laureate From Office

Myanmar's military junta published the text of a proposed new constitution Wednesday that would guarantee the military a continuing role in government and ban Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from holding public office.

Critics have denounced the proposed charter, to face a national referendum next month, as undemocratic and designed to perpetuate military rule. They also have criticized the junta for not releasing it earlier, since a committee hand-picked by the military completed it Feb. 19.

Copies of the 457-article, 194-page document went on sale at government bookshops Wednesday for 1,000 kyat ($1) a copy. Copies of the text began to leak to journalists last week, after being distributed to selected officials.

Opposition leader Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party urged voters last week to reject the proposed charter because it was drafted under the junta's direct control, without any input from the country's pro-democracy movement.

The draft constitution will be adopted if more than half of eligible voters approve it.

The document bans anyone who enjoyed the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen from holding public office. This would keep Suu Kyi out of government because her late husband, Michael Aris, was a Briton and their two sons are British.

Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest, has been in detention without trial for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

The proposed charter allots 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament to the military. It empowers the president to transfer legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military's commander in chief for a year if a state of emergency arises.

It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes unlikely unless supported by military representatives in Parliament.

The proposed charter also would protect junta members from legal prosecution for any acts carried out as part of their official duties.

The junta has been accused of gross human rights violations in suppressing the pro-democracy movement and in operations against ethnic minorities seeking autonomy or independence.

The junta announced in February that a constitutional referendum would be held in May, to be followed by general elections in 2010. The exact dates have not been announced.

Suu Kyi's party won the last general elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power, instead stepping up its repression of dissidents.

The charter is based on a set of guidelines that a military-guided national convention completed last year after 14 years of on-and-off meetings. The junta calls the process starting with the convention and culminating in the general elections its "roadmap to democracy."

Other groups urging a rejection of the charter include the 88 Generation Students group and the All Burma Monks' Alliance, which were instrumental in organizing mass pro-democracy protests last year.

Most of the leaders of the two groups are under arrest or in hiding, so much of the campaign against the proposed constitution has been conducted underground, with leaflets being left at public places.

Suu Kyi's party has sought to reassure voters that a "no" vote does not violate a law issued by the junta that says anyone who distributes leaflets or makes speeches against the referendum can be imprisoned for three years.

Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and scrapped the previous charter after violently quashing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.

After gaining independence from Britain, Myanmar, also known as Burma, experimented with democracy until 1962, when the military seized power.

The junta has been under strong international pressure to make democratic reforms, especially since it quashed pro-democracy protests last September. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained.