US voices sup­port for Myan­mar elec­tion

An ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with US Am­bas­sador Derek Mitchell

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Mark Yang

The United States gov­ern­ment has wel­comed the Myan­mar’s will­ing­ness to go to the polls on Novem­ber 8. Although Myan­mar’s Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion as­sures the public that the na­tional elec­tion will be free and fair, crit­ics have voiced con­cern over whether there will be a “clean elec­tion.” Washington has ex­pressed its sup­port of the demo­cratic process in Myan­mar, as the US Am­bas­sador Derek Mitchell makes clear.

US Am­bas­sador Mitchell has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in Asia pol­icy. He was ap­pointed by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama as the first spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive and pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor for Myan­mar. The US se­nate con­firmed him as the new United States Am­bas­sador to Myan­mar on June 29, 2012. Be­fore that, Am­bas­sador Mitchell was in­volved with Asian and Pa­cific Se­cu­rity Af­fairs. He helped to shape and guide the di­rec­tion of US De­fense pol­icy in Asia. He also led the con­duct of public out­reach and drafted speeches out­lin­ing the Depart­ment of De­fense’s strate­gic ap­proach to East, South East and South Asia.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, US Am­bas­sador Mitchell dis­cusses the up­com­ing elec­tions with Mizzima Weekly’s Mark Yang.

Myan­mar has an­nounced it will hold its gen­eral elec­tion on Novem­ber 8 this year. How does the United States Em­bassy view this elec­tion?

These elec­tions rep­re­sent an es­sen­tial marker in Myan-

mar’s demo­cratic tran­si­tion, and an op­por­tu­nity for the coun­try to af­firm to the world its com­mit­ment to po­lit­i­cal re­form. We con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for cred­i­ble, trans­par­ent, and in­clu­sive elec­tions whose re­sult re­flects the will of the Myan­mar peo­ple. We have stated re­peat­edly that an elec­tion is not a one-day event, but a long-term process. The United States will closely ob­serve Myan­mar’s elec­toral process from now through elec­tion day and the es­tab­lish­ment of a new gov­ern­ment in April 2016, all of which will de­ter­mine the ul­ti­mate cred­i­bil­ity and suc­cess of this elec­tion.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Na­tional League for Democ­racy have an­nounced they will run. Yet an ar­ti­cle in the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion blocks Daw Suu from the pres­i­dency, should her party win. How do you view this?

Con­sti­tu­tional change is a sov­er­eign is­sue for the peo­ple of Myan- mar, and what changes are made should be up to them. But there are cer­tain prin­ci­ples uni­ver­sal to the Con­sti­tu­tions and le­gal in­fra­struc­ture of a democ­racy, in­clud­ing re­spect for the rights of mem­bers of mi­nori­ties, civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary, and the right of cit­i­zens to elect freely the lead­ers of their choice. With re­spect to Ar­ti­cle 59(f), Pres­i­dent [Barack] Obama has said pre­vi­ously that this is a re­stric­tion that does not seem to be con­sis­tent with these prin­ci­ples.

[US Pres­i­dent Obama said:] “Ul­ti­mately, what changes are made are up to the peo­ple of [this na­tion]. But, for ex­am­ple, I don’t un­der­stand a pro­vi­sion that would bar some­body from run­ning for Pres­i­dent be­cause of who their chil­dren are. That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Why has it been prov­ing dif­fi­cult to change what many view as an im­per­fect con­sti­tu­tion?

The pa­ram­e­ters of Myan­mar’s con­sti­tu­tion set a very high bar for con­sti­tu­tional change, re­quir­ing the sup­port of more than 75 per­cent of mem­bers of par­lia­ment, in­clud­ing at least one mil­i­tary MP. So far, it ap­pears the mil­i­tary has ex­er­cised its ef­fec­tive veto of con­sti­tu­tional change de­spite sup­port from a large ma­jor­ity of elected MPs.

How do you view the na­tional elec­tion in Rakhine State? Will Ro­hingya with green cards be able to vote?

The up­com­ing elec­tions should pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for all the peo­ple of this coun­try, in­clud­ing in Rakhine State, to have a say in their peo­ple’s and coun­try’s fu­ture. We would re­fer you to the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar on the ques­tion of whether green card hold­ers will be able to vote.

The Tat­madaw, the Myan­mar Army, has ma­jor in­flu­ence on the peace process in Myan­mar. How do you view their role in the drive to sign a Na­tional Ceasefire Agree­ment?

The suc­cess of the peace process is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing real long-term po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity and re­form in Myan­mar. It is clear no ceasefire or fi­nal peace agree­ment is pos­si­ble with­out the in­volve­ment and com­mit­ment of the Myan­mar army. We re­main con­cerned, how­ever, that on­go­ing con­flicts could un­der­mine the progress made to­ward achiev­ing that goal.

Many peo­ple in Myan­mar feel there will be “tricks and cheats” in the com­ing elec­tions like in 2010. How do you view it?

Elec­tions that are ac­cepted by the peo­ple as re­flec­tive of their will are es­sen­tial to the sta­bil­ity of a coun­try and ac­cep­tance of its demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. The cred­i­bil­ity of the 2015 elec­tions will ul­ti­mately be de­ter­mined by the peo­ple of Myan­mar, not the United States

Flood­ing in the Sa­gaing Re­gion. Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

US Am­bas­sador Derek Mitchell (cen­tre) on a visit to Chin State. Photo: US Em­bassy

US Am­bas­sador Derek Mitchell talks to the media on a re­cent visit to Man­dalay. Photo: Mark Yang

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