US policy ‘risks legitimising’ Burma elections

The Burmese junta may be using the new US policy of bilateral engagement to justify to its population controversial elections later this year, a report warns.

The New York-based Asia Society think tank also cautions against high expectations of the policy shift, claiming that so far “there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Burma’s leaders will respond positively” to US demands on elections.

Washington last year announced that it would break with its unsuccessful policy of isolating the military government in favour of greater engagement with Burma’s ruling generals, in keeping with president Obama’s professed emphasis on dialogue with so-called ‘rogue’ states.

But although still in its early stages, there has been little tangible evidence so far that engagement has made any headway in the pariah Southeast Asian state. Recently announced election laws have forced Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) to boycott the polls and risk dissolution.

“It is quite possible that the leadership’s primary objective in engaging with the United States is to demonstrate to its own population that the United States endorses the regime’s seven-step process toward democracy,” the report said.

It added that the US “must tread carefully through this minefield, avoiding the appearance of sanctioning or legitimizing a flawed election process, while pressing Burma’s military leaders to carry out credible elections”.

Furthermore, any direct US monitoring of the polls “could be seen as conferring legitimacy on a seriously flawed election process”.

Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo supported the reports findings, but warned further that Burmese government likely “does not care” about US policy in whichever form.

“The geopolitical conditions ultimately favour the Burmese military – for the Indians it’s better if they have a government [in Burma] who spends high on the military, and likewise the Chinese.

Indeed the report adds that Burma does not feature high enough in US foreign policy priorities “so resources to address US goals in Burma will be limited”.

The decision by the NLD to opt out of the elections has received mixed reactions from inside Burma, while much of the international community has asserted its support for whichever decision the party makes.

But in the run-up to the opposition party’s exit from mainstream politics in Burma, a number of other parties formed with the authorisation of the government and have begun to register for the elections.

Aung Naing Oo said that this sort of move “will be encouraged by regional powers” and aid the junta’s vows that elections will be free and fair, adding that despite the US repeatedly condemning the polls the momentum towards elections “will go on”.

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