The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which includes Myanmar among its 10-nation membership, criticised the move on Wednesday but said it was powerless to do anything.

 

Speaking at an Asean meeting in Singapore, Nyan Win, Myanmar's foreign minister, confirmed the new charer would bar Aung San Suu Kyi from running for public office.

 

"This is their own country, this is their own history. What can we do about it?"

George Yeo, Singapore foreign minister

George Yeo, Singapore's foreign minister, said Nyan Win told regional ministers that a Myanmar citizen with a foreign spouse and non-citizen children would be disqualified under the new constitution, as is the case in the 1974 document.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, is the mother of two British children.

 

Yeo said the Asean ministers found the exclusion clause "not [in] keeping with the times" saying that it would be "very odd" in any member country of the regional grouping.

 

But he added: "This is their own country, this is their own history. What can we do about it?"

 

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has denounced the restrictions as "unjust", saying the military was preparing for elections before knowing the outcome of the referendum.

 

"There is not yet a law to govern the elections which are to be held in 2010. It's unjust for the authorities to talk in advance about the elections," NLD spokesman Nyan Win told AFP.

 

The NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the military refused to recognise the result.

 

Military veto

 

The new constitution is expected to ensure the
military remains the top power [AFP]
The final version of the proposed constitution has not been released, but previous reports in state media have suggested that in addition to barring Aung San Suu Kyi from public office there will be strict limits on the activities of political parties.

 

It is also expected to include provisions reserving one quarter of seats in parliament for serving military officers and give them a veto over legislation.

 

Reports have also suggested that the military commander in chief will be the most powerful figure in the country, and able to appoint key ministers and hold power in "times of emergency".

 

The draft constitution took more than 14 years to complete and was only approved by a government-appointed commission without consulting opposition groups.

 

Aung Zaw, an exiled Myanmar activist and editor of the magazine Irrawaddy, said the planned referendum on the new constitution would only plunge the country into further chaos.

 

"People in Burma are in no mood to cooperate with the military junta, particularly after the bloody crackdown in September," he told Al Jazeera.

 

Earlier this week, Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy to Myanmar visited Beijing in an effort to push China, a key ally of Myanmar, to persuade the ruling military to "co-operate concretely" in moves towards democracy.

 

China and others, he said, should send "the right message, the right signals" to the ruling generals to achieve the objective of "a peaceful, united, prosperous, stable, democratic Myanmar with full respect for the human rights of its people".

 

Gambari said he expected to be allowed to return to Myanmar, adding that it was too soon to say if the UN would be involved in the process of moving the country toward democracy.