YANGON (AFP) — A referendum approving a new military-backed constitution for Myanmar has "washed away" the victory claimed by Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party in 1990 elections, state media said Tuesday.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide 18 years ago, but the military never recognised the result and has kept the Nobel peace prize winner under house arrest for most of the years since then.
The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar said Tuesday that the NLD's election mandate was "outdated" after the constitution was approved last month in a controversial referendum -- held while the impoverished nation was still reeling from the devastating effects of Cyclone Nargis.
"What will those who claimed themselves to have the mandate of the people according to the 1990 election results have to do? Will they have to throw the mandate down the drain?" the English-language paper asked.
"Now, their hope was washed away along the current of the vote of the people," it added.
The paper, which did not refer to Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD by name, said the party would now have to seek a new election mandate in polls promised for 2010.
"If they want to have the mandate of the people in the new nation with the new system, they should stand for election in accordance with the rules and regulations" and display a sense of discipline and democracy, it added.
The NLD has rejected the result of the referendum, which Myanmar claims was approved by more than 92 percent of voters on a 98 percent turnout.
The party condemned the junta for holding the vote instead of focusing on the humanitarian crisis, and accused officials of rigging the outcome.
The cyclone left 133,000 dead or missing when it pounded the country on May 2-3, flooding entire villages and devastating the Irrawaddy Delta.
But the newspaper dismissed "the complaints of those who cling on to the outdated mandate," and warned that they should not "build castles in the air while ignoring the prevailing situations."
Myanmar says the constitution will clear the way for democratic elections, but the NLD insists it will merely enshrine military rule.
The new charter bans Aung San Suu Kyi from holding elected office, while reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for serving soldiers.
The junta has come under fierce international pressure for its response to the cyclone, notably for sweeping restrictions on foreign aid designed to help 2.4 million people the United Nations says are in dire need of shelter, food and medicine.
UN officials estimate 60 percent of them still have not received any help.
Despite the devastation, Myanmar has kept a tight grip on the nation's politics.
Last month, the regime ordered Aung San Suu Kyi to spend another year confined to her home, while arresting 16 of her supporters who had taken to the streets to call for her release.
Myanmar analyst Win Min, based at Thailand's Chiang Mai University, said that the junta was trying to weaken the NLD by attacking its popular endorsement in the last national elections.
"The whole intention of the military was to delegitimise the 1990 elections by holding the referendum," Win Min said. "People are very angry. It is obvious that they rigged the vote."
With most people in Yangon also struggling to cope with the aftermath of the storm, democracy activists would not be able to organise protests against the referendum's outcome, Win Min said.
"Most of their attention is on the cyclone and the survivors. So they are not going to organise anything, even if they do not like" the result, he said.
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