Synopsis

US-Myanmar bilateral relations are being influenced by upcoming major elections in the two countries. Short-term gains by either side risk undermining rapprochement and the US’ role in Myanmar.

Commentary

 

AFTER BEING frosty for two decades, United States-Myanmar bilateral relations have warmed significantly since 2011. President Obama has been instrumental in modifying US policy on Myanmar, balancing sanctions with engagement. He recognised the need for the US to work with the military, shifting American focus from the long-held goal of regime change to the more pragmatic approach of regime modification. The new approach has positioned the US to work more productively with regional organisations in encouraging reforms in Myanmar.

 

Obama would not have succeeded in mending bilateral ties without parallel moves by Myanmar’s President Thein Sein. Alongside pushing a reform agenda, the nominally civilian government also worked to restore Myanmar’s place on the international stage and revitalise ties with the West. The rapprochement had numerous breakthroughs since 2011: Hillary Clinton became the first Secretary of State to visit Myanmar since 1955; an American ambassador was posted after a 22-year absence; and Obama’s 2012 visit was the first by a serving American president.

 

Between Two Elections

Although the US’ role in Myanmar has expanded in recent years, it is now increasingly questioned by lawmakers and activists due to claims of stalled reforms, rights violations and regression of freedoms. This is more so in the run-up to major elections in the two countries.

 

In Myanmar, Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remarked in early November that reforms have stalled. She was de facto gatekeeper of Myanmar’s relations with the West in the past and her comments still carry weight. Constitutional changes – on whether Suu Kyi can run for president and on constitutional amendments – and an ever-elusive nation-wide ceasefire agreement – are seen as key reform milestones. الالعاب التي تربح المال Any of these appear increasingly unlikely to occur in time for general elections slated for late October or early November 2015.

 

On 18 November, Parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann told a press conference that a referendum will be held in May 2015 to canvass public opinion but any constitutional amendment will be enacted only after the elections. Given how things panned out since 2011, it is difficult to predict what is in store for Myanmar in 2015. Some observers have even cast doubt on the likelihood of elections taking place. Sectarian violence, increasingly seen as instigated by forces linked to high places, risks flaring up as a deadly distraction before elections.

 

In the US, lawmakers have increasingly questioned bilateral relations with arguments that the US lost its leverage by rolling back sanctions. Human rights activists have also called for the US to pressure Myanmar over the plight of Muslim communities and uncertain media freedoms. The continued dominance of the military, the Tatmadaw, has been a perpetual thorn. 72 bipartisan members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in August 2014, warning that Myanmar had “taken a sharp turn for the worse”.

 

Furthermore, efforts to undermine President Obama, who portrays Myanmar as a foreign policy victory, and Hilary Clinton who oversaw the rapprochement as Secretary of State and is the most likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, have made Republican lawmakers more critical of developments in Myanmar. These lawmakers risk sacrificing the bilateral relations of long-term importance for short term gains at the next presidential election. قوانين لعبة بوكر

 

And as the planned 2015 Myanmar election draws closer, there is increasing pressure to allow Suu Kyi to run for president. With the Senate in Republican hands led by long-time Suu Kyi supporter Mitch McConnell, the combination of hyper-partisanship and genuine concern in Washington along with deadlock and uncertainty in Naypyidaw might lead to a souring of bilateral relations.