|08RANGOON284||2008-04-24 10:06:00||SECRET||Embassy Rangoon|
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1. (C) Summary: 88 Generation continued their vote "no"
campaign during the April water festival, and are working now
to organize local "watch groups" throughout Burma to
volunteer to observe vote counts at local precincts. The
regime may have already complicated this plan as papers
released this morning announced that only the last 10 voters
at each precinct would be allowed to observe the count.
Activists told us there was some protest activity over water
festival, though they admitted it was limited and sporadic.
Ordinary Burmese remain confused about the referendum, and
many say they will vote "no" simply because they hate the
regime. However, the fear that the regime will track how
people vote remains pervasive, and many people we speak with
say they will vote "yes" so that they will not be punished.
2. (C) 88 Generation leaders Toe Kyaw Hlaing and Soe Tun
continued their "vote no" campaign activities during Burma's
recent Water Festival holidays. Toe Kyaw Hlaing stayed in
Rangoon meeting with activists to organize "watch groups"
that will volunteer to be citizen observers of the vote
counting on the May 10 referendum day. He explained that
activists throughout Burma were recruiting their friends and
fellow students, who are not known to the authorities as
political activists, to volunteer at their local precincts to
observe the vote counting. They sought groups of three to
quietly watch the counting and report the results back to
their 88 Generation friends. Even if they saw
irregularities, Toe Kyaw Hlaing emphasized, they would not
create a disturbance at the poll. 88 Generation hopes to
organize 3,000 watch groups. The regime may have already
complicated this plan as papers released this morning
announced that only the last 10 of each precinct's voters
would be allowed to observe the count.
3. (S) Toe Kyaw Hlaing has rented an office and several cell
phones with the Special Response Fund grant his organization
received from the Embassy. 88 Generation members will report
their observations at local precincts to him at the Yangon
office that will serve as the collection center. 88
Generation then plans to share their findings with the NLD,
which has plans to run its own observation operation
(septel), to coordinate information sharing with the outside
4. (C) Toe Kyaw Hlaing acknowledged to us that there was
very little opposition activity during the April Water
festival, but countered that it was a useful time for the
activists to organize because large groups of the police and
Swan-Ar-Shin were preoccupied watching revelers at the
pandals, the massive stages constructed to spray water at the
5. (C) Toe Kyaw Hlaing told us that most of the blue-shirted
security guards visible at each pandal were actually Special
Branch Police officers and Swan-Ar-Shin that the pandal
sponsors had to hire for a fee of 60,000 kyat. Toe Kyaw
Hlaing claimed to have witnessed a large fight on the last
day of water festival over a car full of activists who were
loudly singing a popular song with lyrics altered to
encourage people to vote "no". When the security guards from
the nearest pandal heard them, they quickly moved toward the
car to arrest the passengers. Several onlookers prevented
the guards from reaching the car and a fight broke out.
Three guards were seriously injured during the fight, Toe
Kyaw Hlaing reported.
6. (C) Activist Soe Tun told us that he and other 88
Generation members had traveled around Bagan and upper Burma
during the water festival to organize activists there. He
related that they were encouraged by the many people they met
who told them they would be voting "no" in the referendum.
Confusion about the referendum remains high, Soe Tun said,
but many people said they would vote "no" solely because that
was contrary to what the regime advocated.
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7. (C) Comment: Although 88 Generation is working hard to
spread their message, their numbers are small, the work is
slow, and the referendum is approaching fast. Many people we
speak to remain afraid to vote "no" because they believe the
regime has a way to trace how people vote and they are afraid
they, their families, or their villages will be punished for
rejecting the constitution. The regime continues to print
vote "yes" editorials in its daily mouthpiece paper, but many
pay no attention to the message since they do not offer any
reasons why this benefits the people. However, absent any
viable means to verify the vote counting, as well as the fear
of being punished for a "no" vote, means that whatever result
is announced will have no credibility with anyone familiar
with a "free and fair" process. End comment.