It has been an exciting and important week for the Burmese people. After decades of authoritarian rule, there are promising signs that the Myanmar regime is prepared to embrace democratic reform in a meaningful, sincere, and sustainable way.
In Sunday’s by-elections, opposition candidates won virtually all of the contested seats, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament after 20 years in detention. International observers generally agree that the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner. The Burmese government itself has praised the elections and pledged to quickly certify and honor the results.
Today Secretary Clinton discussed the Obama Administration’s response to the election including plans to name a fully accredited American Ambassador to Rangoon after an absence of more than two decades, establish a USAID mission to support development programs, enable American NGOs to operate in Burma, partially ease the ban on exports and investment, and facilitate travel to the US by certain Burmese parliamentarians and other officials engaged in implementing democratic reforms.
The Secretary noted the delicate nature of the process ahead:
“Now, this reform process has a long way to go. The future is neither clear nor certain. But we will continue to monitor developments closely and meet, as I said when I was there, action with action. We will continue to seek improvements in human rights, including the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners and the lifting of conditions on all those who have been released. We will continue our support for the development of a vibrant civil society, which we think will greatly add to the reform of the economy and society. We will continue to urge progress in national reconciliation, specifically with ethnic minority groups. And we will continue to press for the verifiable termination of the military relationship with North Korea.
“Yet even as we urge these further steps, we fully recognize and embrace the progress that has taken place, and we will continue our policy of engagement that has encouraged these efforts. The leadership has shown real understanding and commitment to the future of their country. That development, we hope, will be sustainable and produce even more results.”
The positive steps forward in Burma are certainly worth celebrating, supporting, and reinforcing, as are the efforts of other reformers elsewhere to establish inclusive, transparent governance and respect for the inherent right of people everywhere to speak freely, assemble peacefully, and select their own leaders.