EU Official Urges Fair Elections in Burma

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MONDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2012

A visiting European Union official called for Burma’s national Parliament to become an effective player in the ongoing reform process, and urged the country’s leaders to ensure the upcoming by-elections are free and fair.

According to a Reuters report, the European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs made the remark in his meeting on Monday with Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of Burma’s Lower House of Parliament.

Piebalgs said that the perception of April’s by-elections will be an important factor for the EU when considering the lifting of sanctions on Burma. In response, Shwe Man reportedly told him that the Burmese government is taking the necessary actions for democracy to thrive in the country and that he would welcome Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the parliament if it wins seats in the April 1 polls.

The bicameral Parliament is dominated by members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and military representatives.

A handful of MPs from opposition parties have found most of their proposals rejected in Parliament; many of the bills that have been approved were initially proposed by USDP MPs.

Political parties will compete for 48 vacant parliamentary seats in the April elections, and Suu Kyi has vowed to fight for changes to the current Constitution, even though her party cannot constitute more than just a small minority of the Houses even if it sweeps the elections.

At Monday’s meeting, the EU foreign aid chief pressed for the further release of remaining political prisoners in Burma, according to Reuters, but Shwe Mann said those remaining were “criminal cases.”

The EU announced additional funding of €150 million for Burma’s health, education and agriculture sectors, as well as to assist displaced people in ethnic minority areas, according to an EU statement.

Piebalgs met on Monday with Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw and is scheduled to meet with Suu Kyi on Tuesday in Rangoon as he concludes his Burma trip.

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