Donors testing the waters in Myanmar

The government of Myanmar is convinced the weekend by-elections where Aung San Suu Kyi emerged a victor prove the Southeast Asian nation can hold “fair elections.” But is this all a ploy to get back in the good graces of Western donors?

Several Western diplomats welcomed the results of the parliamentary elections Sunday (April 1), giving specific praise to President Thein Sein for leading Myanmar to the path of reform. And several donors have already signaled plans, although not explicitly, to ease sanctions on Myanmar.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr said Australia is committed to providing “tangible rewards” for progress in the country. He cautioned, however, that the “reward” will be proportionate to “democratization on the ground.”

German Minister of State Cornelia Pieper, meanwhile, said Germany stands ready to support the reform process in Myanmar through the establishment of a Goethe-Institut center in the country. Pieper says the promotion of cultural relations and education plays an outstanding role in the country’s development.

But the Wall Street Journal says it remains unclear whether Sein’s government is pursuing reforms to bring about lasting political and economic changes in the country or simply to ease the burden brought about by the economic sanctions.

Perhaps this is the reason why several donors, the United States included, are cautious in vocalizing their intentions on whether to ease sanctions or reward the poor nation. The European Union has also not given any specifics on the matter. An EU spokeswoman only said EU foreign ministers will be meeting on April 23 to discuss when and if they will ease sanctions on Myanmar.

In recent months, Sein’s government has put forth several reforms in place, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and allowing the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, to run in the recently concluded elections. This has prompted donors to re-engage with Myanmar. But many, still, are testing the waters.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.