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Controversial elections in Burma planned for later this year have been heralded as “a new beginning” for the country by the head of the regional Southeast Asia bloc.
Burma’s first elections in 20 years, rumoured to be in October, are seen by critics of the ruling junta as a charade that will cement military rule in the country. Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is legally barred from participating.
But the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Surin Pitsuwan, took a different stance on the elections during a recent interview with the BBC.
“There will be elections, and the world will have to be prepared to deal with Myanmar [Burma] after the elections. We have seen all sorts of strategies, isolation…boycott, but nothing has worked,” he said.
He added that “no election is perfect” but that ASEAN was “working on trying to make sure that our expectation is fulfilled”.
“I think there is a new beginning after the elections…based on the fact that at least they have taken a step forward,” he continued.
Pitsuwan had reported in January that Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win had told him that elections would be fair and that “everything is moving on course”.
The 10-member ASEAN bloc practices a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states, including Burma – something that has led critics to label it ‘toothless’.
ASEAN operates as a tight economic trading bloc, with Thailand – Pitsuwan’s country of origin – relying on Burma for much of its energy needs.
It is the financial support of regional countries, particularly China, that analysts say has dampened the impact of Western sanctions on Burma, which have so far failed to push the ruling generals toward democratic reform.