US Senator: Flawed Elections Will Hinder Ties With Burma

By Lalit K Jha 5 June 2015

WASHINGTON — The Republican Senate leader told Congress on Thursday that further normalization of relations between the United States and Burma will be “much more difficult” if elections this fall don’t reflect the people’s will.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, is a leading congressional voice on the country. He was a longtime champion of sanctions to oppose military rule. But McConnell has supported the easing of restrictions and US engagement to reward the Southeast Asian nation’s political reforms in recent years.

The senator said flawed elections would hinder enhanced economic ties, the prospect of duty-free benefits for Burma and military-to-military relations, which are still minimal and opposed by some US lawmakers.

McConnell said that for all the positive change seen in Burma in recent years, it was clear that the country had much further to go.

“There are signs that its political reform effort has begun to falter, which is worrying for all of us who care about the Burmese people,” he said. “It doesn’t mean Burmese officials can’t turn things around. I believe they can, which is what I indicated to the Speaker when I met with him. I believe there’s still time before the next critical test of Burma’s slow democratic development this autumn,” he said.

In recent months, the senator has met the Burmese Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann three times. McConnell also used his time on the Senate floor on Thursday to urge protection for the country’s long-suffering Rohingya Muslim minority.

Vikram Nehru, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the Burma military continues to play a central role in running the country, and that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

“The military is unlikely to relinquish its grip on the democratic transition,” Nehru said. “But whether that grip will be tight or gentle remains an open question.”

Additional reporting by Lalit K. Jha for The Irrawaddy in Washington.