WASHINGTON — Ahead of Burma’s crucial Nov. 8 general election, the White House on Wednesday said US President Barack Obama would send a top advisor to the Southeast Asian nation.
Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor, during a visit to Burma next week will “discuss preparations for, and US expectations of, the upcoming November 8 elections,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.
Rhodes is considered a top confidant of the US president within his national security apparatus. In Burma from Oct. 18-20, Rhodes will visit both Rangoon and Naypyidaw, where he will meet with senior government officials, civil society representatives, and ethnic and religious leaders.
“He will affirm US support for reforms that respect rights and advance opportunities for all of the country’s people,” Price said.
Rhodes last visited Burma in November 2014, when he accompanied Obama, who was attending an Association of Southeast Asean Nations (Asean) summit in Naypyidaw. In an interview with The Irrawaddy ahead of that visit, Obama highlighted the importance of the 2015 poll and said Washington was “watching the electoral process very closely.”
“This election will be critical to establishing a representative democracy that reflects the aspirations of all the people of Burma,” he said. “And of course it will shape how the United States engages with the country going forward.”
The White House has touted re-engagement with Burma as one of its signature foreign policy accomplishments since Obama took office in 2009. His presidency has coincided with Burma’s transition from military dictatorship to quasi-civilian rule, with reforms that followed having prompted Western nations, including the United States, to lift most economic sanctions.
In his interview with The Irrawaddy last November, however, Obama acknowledged “a slowdown and backsliding in reforms” in the years since President Thein Sein first initiated political and economic changes.
The Nov. 8 vote is viewed as a critical benchmark for Burma’s transition as the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) challenges Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for control of Parliament and, early next year, the presidency.