RANGOON — The international community teamed up on Tuesday to express “concern” over the prospect of religion being used to incite conflict during Burma’s election season, demonstrated by a joint statement issued by nine embassies present in the country.
Signatories said that the Nov. 8 election, which is hoped to be the country’s freest and fairest after decades of military rule, will be a “critical marker” of Burma’s transition to democracy.
“For that reason, we are supporting efforts to promote a credible, transparent and inclusive election, underpinned by healthy competition that ensures freedom of expression and respect for human rights,” read the statement, which was endorsed by the embassies of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
As the campaign season begins, the statement continued, “we, as international partners invested in the success of this country and these elections, are concerned about the prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season.”
The statement, which vows continued support and vigilance throughout the post-election period, follows after the controversial disqualification of a number of Muslim candidates on the grounds of disputed ancestral citizenship.
The disqualifications followed the recent disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, a minority living primarily in western Burma’s Arakan State that bore the brunt of several rounds of violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities. The violence later spilled over into other parts of the country, leaving multi-ethnic communities on edge.
US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell told The Irrawaddy that the Embassy is watching the electoral process closely to determine whether the polls will meet the expectations of the international community, much of which has only recently re-engaged with the former pariah state.
“Holding a credible, transparent, and inclusive election, whose results are honored and reflected in transition to a new government in 2016, is essential to sustain recent progress in US-Burma relations,” Mitchell said, emphasizing that the government’s responsibility to carry out the will of the people is of utmost importance.
“In the end, what is most important is whether the election results will in fact reflect the will of the people, both by constituency and nationally, whether the people of this country view the conduct and results of the elections as credible and acceptable, and whether there will be a peaceful transfer of power to a new government next year reflecting the election results,” he said.
British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick struck a similar tone, cautioning that misconduct leading up to and after the crucial election could result in the reinstatement of sanctions or a loss of faith among potential investors.
“Of course there would be discussion of economic sanctions again,” Patrick said, “but I think more important would be the missed opportunity. If the vote is credible, and the reform process continues, Burma has a positive economic future.”
“If the elections are not recognized, for instance, then investor confidence would disappear and I would expect the economy to collapse,” he added.
Both ambassadors said that they expect the government and the military to honor the results of the poll and ensure the handover of power to the newly elected government early next year. The results of a 1990 election, which was won in a landslide by the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were ignored by the then-ruling military junta.
Patrick said he addressed the importance of honoring the results of the poll during a recent meeting with Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who expressed determination to carry out the will of the people, whatever that may be.
“I hope the military will see that there is an important role for a strong and respected military in a democracy, of course one that is under the leadership of a civilian government,” Patrick said. “So it is in their interests I think to respect the results and allow the reform process to continue.”