RANGOON — A trio of former heads of government, including Nobel Peace laureates Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari, have called on Burma to allow foreign organizations to observe the country’s 2015 national elections.
“I suggested that the Carter Center come as an international observer,” former US President Carter said on Thursday, citing his organization’s record as observer of 94 elections around the world in recent years.
Carter added that any observation work needed to be agreed to and started soon, to take in important pre-election processes such as the upcoming national census and voter registration, to ensure that the election will be free and fair.
Carter was speaking alongside Ahtisaari, an ex-president of Finland, and former Norway Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, as part of a delegation of The Elders, a group of internationally known former world leaders, which includes figures such as Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, and Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s revered anti-apartheid leader.
The three, who are in Burma to meet with policy makers including President Thein Sein and military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, were in the main fulsome in their praise of Burma’s lawmakers, saying the country’s reforms were going well for the most part.
The group will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-detained presidential hopeful, later Thursday. Suu Kyi has called for Burma’s Constitution to be changed, to enable her to assume the presidency if her National League for Democracy (NLD) wins the 2015 elections.
“We were impressed by the pace with which reforms are proceeding,” a press release sent out by The Elders quoted Carter as saying.
David Scott Mathieson, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international watchdog, however, said, “They [ethnic rebels and the government] have already intended to sign ceasefire with 13 groups. A ceremony where all 13 signed a nationwide ceasefire together is basically an event. It doesn’t mean conditions on the ground are going to improve, because conditions on the ground haven’t markedly improved.
“You get peace only when the life of people in the ground starts improving. And that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.
Warning that “Myanmar has a long way to go” in its political transition, Carter added on Thursday that the absence of citizenship for 800,000 Muslims in Arakan State needs to be addressed. Notably, the three did not refer to these Muslims as Rohingyas, a name that the Burma government does not recognize because it regards the Rohingyas not as a distinct ethnic group, but as immigrants from Bangladesh. Over 100,000 Rohingyas were driven from their homes during two bouts of bloody violence in 2012.
Elsewhere in Burma’s borderlands, Burma’s government has signed ceasefires with most of the ethnic militias operating in resource-laden regions close to China and Thailand. Former Norway Prime Minister Bruntdland told media that Burma’s natural resources development would be an important aspect of the country’s peace processes going forward. “These issues will be addressed once political dialogue starts,” she said.
The ethnic militias want broader political negotiations about the future political system under which Burma will be governed, as part of any wider peace deal. Most ethnic groups want Burma’s 2008 Constitution revised and more powers devolved to resource-wealthy minority regions.
Former President Carter said he thought that ceasefires would be signed soon between the government and those groups, such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which remains at war with the Burmese military.
Recommending that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon take part in Burma’s peace negotiations, Carter said the process needed to be seen as wide-ranging if it was to be a success, and include Burma’s Parliament as well the executive, though Carter was generous in his praise for the Burma government’s main peace negotiator, President’s Office Minister Aung Min.
The group also said Burma needs to improve conditions for women, citing the low representation of women in Burma’s military and ex-army dominated Parliament, with the latter’s female representation at only 5 percent of lawmakers.