US voices support for Myanmar election
An exclusive interview with US Ambassador Derek Mitchell
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