British Foreign Secretary William Hague has concluded his two-day visit to Myanmar which was meant to encourage further reform in the country, which has recently seen dramatic developments and a series of high-profile visits from foreign dignitaries. Some still doubt that Mr. Hague’s visit, and the visits of previous dignitaries, will truly secure continued effective democratisation in the country. Most recently, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who will be contesting the April by-elections, will be offered a government job, and is expected by some to eventually lead the country.
William Hague in Myanmar
Mr. Hague is the first British official of such a high rank to visit Burma in over five decades. He met with President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, as well as National League for Democracy figure Aung San Suu Kyi. The visit follows last March’s announcement by the British government that it would boost the amount of aid to be given to Myanmar, although under the EU, Britain is still imposing a travel ban, investment ban and arms embargo on the country.
Mr. Hague welcomed the recent reforms undertaken by the Myanmar government, but urged further change in his meeting with the Myanmar president. Mr. Hague communicated the British government’s expectations of the country, including the release of political prisoners, credible by-elections, and a “genuine alleviation of the suffering in ethnic areas, including humanitarian access and peace talks,” suggesting that any hope of repealing the current bans being imposed by the British government will only happen after the conditions are met.
Mr. Hague said that Myanmar officials assured him the political prisoners would be freed, but Foreign Minister Maung Lwin said in an interview later that day that only “criminals” were currently imprisoned by the government, sending mixed signals and casting doubt on the continued effective democratisation of Myanmar. However, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann has expressed his regret that last week’s decision to reduce the sentences of prisoners still fell short of many observers’ expectations. He told Hague that he would continue to push for further amnesties through the parliamentary system.
Mr. Hague’s visit follows in the footsteps of many other foreign dignitaries who have held talks with Myanmar officials and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi following US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi to be offered government position
An advisor to Myanmar President Thein Sein claims that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi may be given a position in Myanmar’s government if she manages to be elected to parliament in April’s by-elections. If she so desires, Suu Kyi may choose to work on legislative matters in parliament, or fill an unelected spot in the government, says Nay Zin Latt.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party have confirmed they will contest April’s by-elections, and Ms. Suu Kyi herself will be contesting from Kawhmu constituency near Yangon. The party and Ms. Suu Kyi herself did not answer when asked about this latest conciliatory move from the Myanmar government.
The move seems to represent the gradual warming of a government to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for a long period of time, and her party, which was previously not allowed to contest in government elections. Nay Zin Latt expressed his belief that the NLD “can be the ruling party one day,” in one of the most outspoken declarations of support for change in the repressive state so far.
Ms. Suu Kyi herself has stated that she believes President Thein Sein is a true reformer, and says that she now believes she will see a true, fair election in Myanmar in her lifetime, giving hope to all of Myanmar and the international community, who continue to watch developments in the country very closely.
Myanmar is due to chair ASEAN in 2014, but many have protested against giving the seat to a country which they see as not yet having proven it can take on the role of an international leader, and represent the Southeast Asia region. The NLD and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory in the upcoming elections is likely to be considered a symbol of true continued Myanmar reforms, and would bolster international confidence in the incumbent government.
Report: Myanmar's Suu Kyi 'could get government role' (AFP, 8 January 2012)
Report: Suu Kyi will rule one day, concedes government aide (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 2012)
Report: Britain's Hague urges reforms in historic Myanmar visit (CNN, 5 Jan 2012)
Report: Thura U Shwe Mann praises ‘historic’ visit by British FM (Myanmar Times, 9 January 2012)
Report: Britain's Hague concludes historic Myanmar visit (AFP, 5 January 2012)