Burma parties wary of US sanctions

A number of political parties running in Burma’s elections this year have said that extended US sanctions will do little to affect the polls.

Observers, including US and EU governments, have decried the country’s first elections in two decades as a sham aimed at cementing military rule in Burma. Some 38 parties have registered for the polls, but only one can seriously be considered part of the opposition, following the dissolution of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Khin Maung Swe, spokesperson for the National Democratic Force (NDF), which was formed from the ashes of the NLD, said that the sanctions will not force a change of the repressive laws that govern how parties campaign, and which can participate in the elections.

“I think it would be more beneficial for Burma if the international community pushes for a revision of the unfair laws, help to find a solution to make the elections free for everyone and [push for] the release of all political prisoners and allow them to join the elections,” he said.

The ban on imports of Burmese produce to the US was last week extended for another year after the Senate voted 99 to 1 in favour. Washington’s sanctions regime on Burma harks back to 2003 when former president George Bush enacted the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act.

Among the signatories was Jim Webb, the Virginia senator who has made two trips to Burma in the past year where he met with opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi. He however has said in the past that US sanctions on Burma were ineffective, a stance that drew the ire of members of Suu Kyi’s party.

The election laws announced in March appear to be one of several signs that the Burmese junta has shirked US pressure to tighten its grip on power. Aye Lwin, leader of the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (UMFNP), who took a leading role in the anti-sanctions campaign in Burma, echoed the sentiment expressed by Khin Maung Swe.

“We see that even a well-informed nation like the US is misled on Burma. If the US wants free and fair and clean elections in Burma, then they need to welcome and give moral support on the individuals and groups striving [for free and fair elections].”

No date has been set for the elections, although rumours have surfaced that they will be held in October. The only information from the government is that they will take place in the second half of this year. Candidates have complained that little time is being given for them to prepare, with constituencies yet to be announced.

“The parties should be given enough time for their structure formation, member recruitment and explaining their policies to the people. The US should emphasise issues like this and stress this to the Burmese government,” Aye Lwin said.

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