WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday welcomed Myanmar’s election as a victory for the people, and the vote appeared to raise prospects of a further lifting of U.S. sanctions – provided the military accepts the results.
While highlighting encouraging signs from Sunday’s poll, Washington remained cautious and said it would watch for the democratic process to move forward before lifting more sanctions, which still target more than 100 individuals and businesses and limit U.S. investment in Myanmar.
The ruling party in Myanmar, a country also known as Burma, conceded defeat on Monday in the country’s first free general election in 25 years. The opposition led by democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi appeared on course for a landslide victory that could ensure it forms the next government.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the election process was encouraging and “represents an important step in Burma’s democratic process.”
“What is clear is that for the first time ever, millions of people in Burma voted in a meaningful, competitive election,” he said.
He said there were still flaws in the political system – including a constitutional provision barring Suu Kyi from becoming president because of her marriage to a foreigner – and it was too soon to discuss U.S. policy changes.
The top U.S. diplomat for Asia said preliminary indications were that the elections went “quite smoothly,” but a “credible” transition was now needed.
Daniel Russel, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that after 50 years of military dictatorship, “this was a hell of a step forward for the democratic process,” but added: “Now comes the hard part.”
Russel said it was too early to evaluate the overall conduct of the voting, or say whether it could lead to a lifting of remaining U.S. sanctions.
“The further the process of reform moves, the more credible and respectable the political process is, the greater the support and the lower the hurdles for the U.S. government, and I suspect other governments, to actively support a new Burmese government, including through adjustments to our policies.”
The U.S. officials said Myanmar’s president and military leadership had publicly reaffirmed that they would accept the election results.
“The United States, and I believe other members of the international community, have every intention of holding them to that,” Russel said.