Burma's national and regional parliaments, which were elected last November in a deeply flawed process, will hold their first session January 31st. This will be first time that a legislative body has convened in Burma since 1988. Voted in under the disputed 2008 constitution, which was drafted by Burma's military rulers without input from democratic opposition groups, government officials and supporters will hold about 80 percent of the elected seats. Tightening their grip on power further, regime leaders recently named the lawmakers who will serve as the designated military appointees, who will account for one fourth of the parliament's members.
Burma's leaders said the election was part of their plan to move the country to democracy and civilian rule, but the legislature is hardly democratic. Not only did the military leadership guarantee itself a strong hand in Parliament with the large number of military appointees, it limited the ability of opposition candidates to campaign for the elected seats. Many, including democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi who remained under house arrest during the elections, were barred from running at all. The election was neither free nor fair.
The United States is among a handful of countries that have imposed targeted economic sanctions on those most responsible for denying democracy and disregarding human rights in Burma. As the time approaches for the parliaments to convene, some of Burma's neighbors have called on the West to lift sanctions. They say U.S. policy hampers important areas of trade, prevents investment and technology from helping to develop Burma's hard-pressed ethnic regions, and hurts the Burmese people.
The United States is deeply concerned about the plight of ordinary citizens of Burma. But it is the regime that is responsible for the country's dire economic situation. The record is clear on how the military regime has mismanaged the economy, institutionalized corruption and plundered valuable national resources for private gain.
Our two nations have been in talks about improving relations since 2009 and we will continue to engage the government on our mutual concerns. Until the government undertakes fundamental change in Burma, including releasing the more than 2,100 political prisoners and beginning a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, U.S. sanctions will remain in place.