WASHINGTON — The United States should not provide trade benefits to Burma until after November parliamentary elections that will signal the state of political reform in the former pariah state, the Senate leader said on Thursday.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell strongly criticized the quasi-civilian government of Burma for blocking changes late last month to a junta-era constitution that still gives the military a veto on any amendments and prevents opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency.
“In light of the recent defeat of constitutional reform, I believe that steps, such as including Burma in the Generalized System of Preferences program, should be put on hold until after this fall’s election,” McConnell said.
McConnell, who is a prominent voice in Congress on US policy toward Burma, said its leaders “took a step backward from the path to more representative government.”
He said additional steps to normalize relations, such as including Burma in a program that provides duty-free benefits to poor countries, should be put on hold until after the vote.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Wednesday welcomed the announcement of the Nov. 8 election date, saying a credible parliamentary vote will be an important step in Burma’s democratic transition. He said the United States was providing technical support to the election commission, political parties and civil society to ensure elections are “inclusive and transparent.”
The last general election was held in 2010 under rules widely seen as rigging the outcome to favor a military-backed party, which won the lion’s share of parliamentary seats. This year’s vote is expected to be more competitive, with Suu Kyi’s party likely to fare well.
But McConnell warned that because of the defeat of the constitutional reforms, “even if the actual conduct of the election proves to be free and fair, it risks being something other than the will of the people.”