Myanmar’s Historic Vote, First in Half a Century
Sunday is an historic day for the people of Myanmar as they begin voting tomorrow. This could propel opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament, convincing the West to end their sanctions.
Economic sanctions were imposed years ago due to human rights abuses, and the United States along with the European Union may lift them - if the election is free and fair. This ease of sanctions will unleash a wave of investment in the underprivileged but reserve - opulent country adjoining India and China.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, held for 15 years under house arrest until 2010, complained last week of "irregularities", though nothing substantial enough to sway her party's bid for 44 of 45 by-election seats.
"We're happy to see that everything is going peacefully and we hope that the whole day can be run in a peaceful way," said Ivo Belet, a member of the European parliament who is in Myanmar to observe the election.
"We'll make an evaluation later of course on the basis of all the polling sessions that we will be seeing. We will be working all day from this morning until tonight and also try to follow the counting of the votes."
The vote needs the blessing of Suu Kyi to be regarded as credible. Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest in November 2010, just days after a widely condemned general election that paved the way for the end of 49 years of direct army rule and the creation of a civilian parliament stacked with former generals.
The parliament has surprised the world by pursuing the most dramatic political reforms since the military took power in a 1962 coup in what formally Burma.
They have freed hundreds of political prisoners, begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship, allowed trade unions, and has shown signs of pulling back from the formidable economic and political influence of its behemoth neighbor China. The reward came last November when Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.
Business executives, mostly from Asia, have swarmed into the commercial capital, Yangon, in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in the country of 60 million people, one of the last frontier markets in Asia.