Burma under pressure to act on poll ‘credibility deficit’

Military-run Burma came under pressure from its neighbours on Wednesday to address what Indonesia said was a “credibility deficit” surrounding its November 7 elections.

Burma Foreign Minister Nyan Win will face questions over the much-criticised poll when he sits down with his Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) counterparts for dinner on Wednesday.

“There is a perception of a credibility deficit but it’s not too late, we think, to try to address that,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters in Hanoi.

“But I wouldn’t want to belittle the kind of efforts that we need to make.”

The ballot is the country’s first in two decades but has been dismissed by critics as a sham designed to entrench military rule in Burma.

The nation’s iconic opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest — a measure which is due to end days after the election — and will not take part in the ballot.

Western governments as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly said the vote will not be credible unless Suu Kyi and other opponents are freed.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the issue would also be taken up by Asean leaders at their summit Thursday.

“As I understand, [Burma] will be giving the latest briefing on the forthcoming activities,” he said.

Source of embarrassment
Asked how hopeful Asean was that the elections would be credible, he replied: “We will see.”

And on a push for Burma to permit foreign observers to supervise the voting, he said that was “not the point”.

“The point is, will there be credible elections if Aung San Suu Kyi and the others are not part of it? It’s not the observers, it’s the participation of all.”

Although Asean makes decisions by consensus and maintains a principle of non-interference in its members’ affairs, Burma has been a source of embarrassment for the 10-nation bloc’s more democratic members.

Indonesia has previously raised the prospect of sending foreign “visitors” to monitor the elections.

“But I think the authorities have been quite clear in saying they are not open to this idea so we’ll see what they say at this meeting,” Natalegawa said.

He said outsiders could offer assistance and support but they needed a positive response from Burma, whose authorities “have their own thoughts and views on how the elections should be carried out”.

Ban arrives in Hanoi on Wednesday ahead of Friday talks with Asean leaders.

The UN chief has expressed his growing “frustration” with the Burma junta in recent weeks and called on Asean to be more aggressive with its pariah neighbour or risk tarnishing its own democratic credentials. — AFP

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Martin Abbugao
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