Burma tightens its grip on power as the regime declares victory for its constitution following a second round of voting in regions hit by a deadly cyclone three weeks ago.
Myanmar declared victory Monday for a military-backed constitution, pressing ahead with its political agenda despite the devastation caused by the cyclone that left 133,000 dead or missing.
Though more than half of the 2.4 million people severely affected by the cyclone have not yet been reached by international aid, the ruling junta claimed nearly all of them cast a ballot.
"The suggestion that the areas affected by the cyclone got 93 percent turnout just highlights what a nonsense the process is," said John Virgoe, Southeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group.
"The way this has been done can't in any way represent the true wishes of the people because it wasn't a free and fair vote."
Cyclone Nargis pounded the country more than three weeks ago, destroying entire villages in the Irrawaddy Delta area in the country's southwest and pounding the main city of Yangon.
Some 4.5 million voters in the cyclone zone were eligible to cast ballots Saturday in a second round of voting. State media said 93 percent turned out for the poll, with 92.93 percent endorsing the charter.
A first round of voting had been held on May 10 in regions spared by the storm.
Nationwide, state media said the constitution was approved by 92.48 percent, with a 98 percent turnout.
Myanmar ignored international calls to delay the referendum and those whose homes had been destroyed told AFP they were forced out of schools where they had sought shelter so classrooms could be used as polling stations.
The few evacuees lucky enough to live in emergency shelters say authorities combed through the camps to register to vote everyone older than 18.
The regime claims the constitution will pave the way for elections in two years, but democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters say the charter will only entrench military rule.
The results were announced as the regime was believed to be preparing to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been locked away for most of the last 18 years.
The new constitution only takes effect once a parliament convenes, after elections promised for 2010.
The charter bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office, and reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for the military. The generals will also have broad powers to declare a state of emergency and seize direct control of the government.
The last round of voting was held on a weekend of intense diplomatic and political activity in this reclusive and impoverished nation.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spent three days here to press the regime to accept a full-scale cyclone relief effort -- although he left the country on Saturday to avoid being in Myanmar during the balloting.
The poll was held on the eve of an international donor conference that raised tens of millions of dollars in cyclone aid, and where participants carefully avoided mentioning politics in discussions.
"The attention's been right off the referendum," Virgoe said. "The generals were determined this constitution was going to happen and it happened. The question is now what happens next?"
If the regime goes ahead with its election plan, Myanmar's opposition and the international community would have to decide whether to work within the "deeply flawed" political process or write it off as unacceptable, he added.
Date created : 2008-05-26