The military-backed civilian government in Myanmar (previously Burma) has invited the United States and the European Union to send their representatives to monitor next month's by-elections to 48 seats in the country's 664-member Parliament, officials said on Wednesday.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcomed the move during a press conference on Wednesday, and said: "This is a good first step. Burma hasn't allowed international observation before, but it does fall short of international complete transparency on an election, and we hope they'll continue to keep the system open, and open it further."
In addition to the U.S. and EU, the Myanmar government has also invited some 25 countries, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to observe the April 1 by-elections to fill the seats vacated by parliamentarians who were appointed to Cabinet posts or other executive positions in the government.
Notably, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is running for one of the seats, while her National League for Democracy (NLD)party has fielded other candidates in each of the remaining 47 seats. The NLD had secured a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, but could not assume power as the ruling military junta refused to recognize the election results.
Later, the NLD boycotted the November 2010 polls, which were dubbed as an eye-wash by most of the international community. It decided to rejoin mainstream politics in December and was subsequently allowed to contest next month's by-polls by the country's election commission.
Suu Kyi herself was under house arrest for most the past 20 years. She was freed on November 13, hours after the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), political arm of the previous military junta, emerged victorious in the election in which both she and her party were denied participation.
Analysts believe that the invitation expended to the U.S. and other countries to monitor the forthcoming by-elections is part of the current government's efforts to get the recently adopted political reforms witnessed and verified by the international community.
The South East Asian country was under decades of military rule until a civilian government replaced the regime headed by Senior General Than Shwe last year after the 2010 November elections. The new government, comprising mostly former military Generals, was sworn in March, 2011 following the country's first general elections in 20 years.
Since then, the new government led by President Thein Sein has freed Suu Kyi from house-arrest, released thousands of prisoners, including journalists, government critics as well as pro-democracy and Opposition activists jailed by the military regime, and implemented several reforms demanded by the Opposition and the international community.
Myanmar had been hit earlier by several rounds of sanctions by Western nations including the United States, mostly over continued detention of political prisoners and suppression of pro-democracy protests and Opposition groups by the previous military junta. But Western countries, including the U.S. and EU, have eased their sanctions in response to the reforms brought in by the new civilian government.
by RTT Staff Writer
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