- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2015

The U.S. has a critical role to play with Myanmar’s new leadership as the country tries to consolidate its political gains after the democratic opposition’s apparent sweeping victory in Sunday’s national elections, analysts said Thursday.

As the results continue to trickle in, the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was just a few seats shy of a supermajority in the two houses of Parliament that would guarantee the party the presidency, unseating the Union Solidarity and Development Party under President Thein Sein, a former general, and shaking up the military’s stronghold over the government.

But Myanmar, also known as Burma, is not necessarily on a fast track to democracy despite the vote, several longtime observers of the country and its politics warned in a panel Thursday at the Heritage Foundation.

The election “doesn’t signal there’s a democracy in Burma, it signals that the people want it,” said Jennifer Quigley, president of U.S. Campaign for Burma. International pressure will still be needed in order for the military to cooperate with the NLD, experts said, as the country transitions out of a military dictatorship.

“The U.S. is one of the few countries, actually, that has any leverage left,” Ms. Quigley said. She criticized the Obama administration for lifting sanctions too quickly in 2012, arguing that Washington’s move backfired when the pressure for political change lessened.

“This regime has become more emboldened once pressure is lifted,” Ms. Quigley said.

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Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters Thursday that Mrs. Suu Kyi “is in a very strong position as the leader of the NLD to be a leading voice about the future direction of the country.” But he said it would be up to Myanmar’s new parliament and leaders to decide about constitutional reform.

Panelists said one way the U.S. can influence Myanmar’s course in the days ahead is by offering investments in exchange for the new curbs on the military’s power and its ability to interfere in politics.

The NLD will need international support as the party faces major limitations to its authority, analysts said. The military is guaranteed 25 percent of the parliamentary seats, making it nearly impossible for the new NLD-led government to amend the military’s power under the constitution. The military also has sole control over the police and holds power over political prisoners — a critical power as the NLD hopes to make as many as 80 former political prisoners members of parliament.

The current constitution also bans Mrs. Suu Kyi from becoming president because her late husband held a foreign passport. She has said she will be the de facto leader of the new government even though she is barred from holding the top spot.

The Associated Press reported that the office of army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the military will hold talks with Mrs. Suu Kyi after the election results are complete. Mrs. Suu Kyi issued an invitation on Wednesday for a meeting with the commander, along with the president and House Speaker Shwe Mann.

U.S. officials say they are encouraged by the early signs that the military and Mr. Thein Sein appear willing to ease their grasp on power. Mr. Thein Sein has already congratulated Mrs. Suu Kyi for her triumph and promised to transfer power peacefully.

President Obama called Mrs. Suu Kyi to offer his congratulations, the White House said Thursday, after speaking with Mr. Thein Sein on Wednesday,

Despite these initiatives, the U.S. might face initially cool relations with the NLD government for underestimating the party, warned Kelly Currie, senior fellow at Project 2049 Institute, a think tank that focuses on emerging political and security issues in Asia.

“A level of suspicion and distrust has crept into this relationship, I think,” Ms. Currie told the Heritage forum.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.



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