In Myanmar, the waiting game begins

    Aung San Suu Kyi was officially declared a winner at Myanmar’s by-elections Sunday. Photo by: Htoo Tay Zar / CC BY-SA

    Aung San Suu Kyi was officially declared a winner at Myanmar’s by-elections Sunday (April 1). Will Western donors now lift decadeslong sanctions on the country?

    The government of Myanmar confirmed Monday (April 2) that the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, has won 40 of the 45 vacant seats in parliament. President Thein Sein’s chief adviser, Ko Ko Hlaing, said this proves the Southeast Asian nation is capable of holding “fair elections.”

    A European Commission spokeswoman said EU foreign ministers meeting April 23 will discuss easing sanctions on the poor nation. The 27-nation bloc’s sanctions include restrictions on mining, timber exports and investment in state-run companies, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    U.S. officials, meanwhile, said they are still “watching” to see how the election plays out, especially in April when newly elected members take their seats in parliament. Many fear the opposition, which includes Suu Kyi, will be overshadowed in parliament, which is still dominated by soldiers linked to the country’s military regime.

    A congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that, for now, people on Capitol Hill are “open to giving small things that are reversible.” However, the aide said there is no “appetite yet” for lifting major sanctions.

    One likely reward are visas for Myanmar officials, says The Washington Post. Pe Thet Khin, the country’s health minister, is scheduled to bring a delegation Sunday (April 8) to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, to discuss possible public health partnerships.

    A free and fair election was one of the United States’ and the European Union’s preconditions to end sanctions on Myanmar. These sanctions have been in place for the past two decades and were imposed following reports of human rights abuses by the then-military regime. Some activists in Washington, however, said donors “should wait” until they see how the newly elected members of parliament will be treated before they “reward the regime.”

    Australia, on Monday (April 2), also said it will consider lifting “some sanctions” against the country if Sunday’s election was deemed “genuine.”

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    About the author

    • 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.