Foreign Poll Observers Critical

A senior U.S. lawmaker wants the Burmese government to invite foreign observers to elections.

Senator McCain speaking to RFA in Washington, Feb. 9, 2012.

A top U.S. senator pushed the Burmese authorities Thursday to allow international observers to monitor upcoming elections in April, saying foreign endorsement of the polls is critical.

"International observers are always important, particularly when the country is holding its first [free] elections," Republican Senator John McCain told RFA in an interview in Washington.

The April by-elections will see pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) taking on Burma's military-backed ruling party for the first time since 1990, when the NLD's landslide victory was not recognized by the country's then-military rulers.

McCain called on Burmese President Thein Sein, who heads a nominally civilian government after decades of military rule, to give serious thought to his proposal to invite foreign observers to the elections made when he visited Burma last month.

"I hope the Burmese government will reconsider the decision, because although elections themselves are not the path to democracy it is important to have the validation of international observers," McCain said.


Burma rejected requests to send foreign observers to November 2010 general elections, which were criticized by international rights groups as not free or fair and were boycotted by the NLD.

McCain also said international sanctions against Burma should be lifted on a "step-by-step" basis as Thein Sein's government implements reforms, effectively endorsing the administration of President Barack Obama's gradual easing of sanctions.

The Obama administration has reversed a long-standing U.S. policy of isolating Burma.

After a January release of political prisoners by Thein Sein's government, the U.S. administration announced it would restore full diplomatic relations after 20 years without an ambassador in Burma.

"I think we need to take these things step-by-step," McCain said, citing former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s approach to Soviet arms control: “trust but verify.”

"We rewarded the Burmese government with sending our ambassador after the release of the political prisoners," said McCain, Obama's Republican rival in the 2008 presidential election.

"Then I think there are further steps we could take that will be commensurate with steps that they take," McCain said.


McCain said U.S. companies are keen to invest in Burma but added that the Thein Sein government needs to enhance efforts to uphold the rule of law to regain investor confidence.

"One of the reasons why there is not more foreign investment is because they want to make sure they have the protections of the rule of law," he said.

"Rule of law is an important and vital ingredient if you want foreign companies to come in and invest and hire."

Reported by Khin May Zaw for RFA's Burmese service. Written in English by Chris Billing and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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Feb 12, 2012 08:14 AM

We would like to invite the UNTAC to join the Cambodian's election as soon as possible or as the observers please??????