Why The West's Plans To Ease Sanctions On Burma May Be Too Hasty

Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma’s Nobel laureate and political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won their first parliament seats in decades with seven per cent of the vote in Sunday’s by-election. This step towards democracy in the military-junta ruled country has led the U.S., the EU and ASEAN to consider lifting the sanctions on Burma (or Myanmar), the BBC reports.

ASEAN has called for all sanctions to be lifted, and the EU has said it will review its arms embargo on the country. Hillary Clinton, who applauded the “dramatic demonstration of popular will” in Burma, has announced the appointment a US ambassador and support for UN development programs in the country, among other things, Reuters reports.  

But while the military government certainly needs to be rewarded, it is still too early and the gains too modest. “The U.S. and EU should not reward the regime simply because the NLD [Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party] has some seats in the parliament,” Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, told the BBC. “They should wait until we see clearly how these newly-elected MPs are treated by the USDP and the military in parliament.” 

He’s right in being circumspect: Suu Kyi’s party did better than expected, dealing a huge blow to the government. Their defeat may make them rethink the whole exercise. Even Suu Kyi was quick to ask her supporters for calm, urging them to be magnanimous in victory.

But the West cannot afford to be too strict either. With the stemming of Western investments, Burma has gotten closer to China, which has invested in its infrastructure, hydropower dams, and oil-and-gas pipelines, according to the Christian Science Monitor

UPDATE 12:13 PM EST: The country’s ruling party has declared it will file an official complaint against “polling irregularities” in the districts where Suu Kyi won, AFP reports. However, Yangon Mayor Aung Thein Linn said the complaints were not meant to question the credibility of the vote. “We are objecting to the process, not the [opposition] party,” he told reporters.

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