WASHINGTON: A key White House advisor suggested Wednesday that fair elections in Myanmar this weekend could lead to sanctions relief and improved ties with the United States.
Senior national security aide Ben Rhodes, who recently returned from Myanmar, said some electoral problems were likely but a broadly fair vote could provide an economic and diplomatic boon.
“Obviously it will impact how we look at sanctions,” Rhodes said, hitting at what he called a misperception that Myanmar had already received the full benefit of better ties with Washington.
President Barack Obama’s administration has sought to engage with Myanmar’s rulers, concluding that the longstanding US policy of isolating the military juntas they oversaw had not borne fruit.
In 2014 Obama visited the country, a major gamble with his reputation should the election prove to be a sham.
Rhodes insisted the inclusion of entities and individuals from the country formerly known as Burma on the US “Specially Designated Nationals” sanctions list had a “chilling effect” on investors.
The list includes Myanmar banks, airlines, industrial companies, hotels and a range of other companies and individuals.
Sanctions were imposed after a junta crackdown on democracy activists in the 1990s, and have not been completely lifted.
“There is a lot of benefit that has not yet come for Burma,” said Rhodes.
“If they clear this hurdle well,” he added, there would be “a lot of potential benefit down the line.”
People in Myanmar head to the polls Sunday in what observers and voters are hoping will be the fairest election in decades, as the nation slowly shakes off years of brutal and isolating junta rule.
It is the first nationwide election in a quarter of a century to be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party. This could potentially tip the balance of power away from the military and its ruling party allies for the first time in generations, if the vote is free and fair.
Myanmar was run for decades by a brutal junta which jailed, killed and exiled dissidents while fixing elections or simply ignoring their results.
Rhodes admitted that the elections were taking place in a “climate of uncertainty.”
If Suu Kyi were to win, under current rules, she would still be barred from leading the country.