Skip to main content

Celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's victory -- ease sanctions on Myanmar

By Suzanne DiMaggio and Priscilla Clapp, Special to CNN
April 2, 2012 -- Updated 1131 GMT (1931 HKT)
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
Supporters pack a truck with the hope of seeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to her constituency for the parliamentary elections April 1, 2012 in Myanmar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Myanmar's parliament
  • Her ability to take part in electoral politics is a sign of reform by the military leadership, authors say
  • U.S. has a complex web of sanctions enacted over many years against military regime
  • Authors: It's a good time to relax the sanctions to encourage economic growth, reform

Editor's note: Suzanne DiMaggio is vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society (Follow her on Twitter). Priscilla Clapp is a retired minister-counselor in the U.S. Foreign Service and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma.

(CNN) -- Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in Myanmar's by-elections on Sunday represents the nascent return of opposition politics to the country after nearly half a century of military rule. It also has created an opportunity for the United States to begin easing economic sanctions that are hindering reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under house arrest by the government for 15 years, won a seat in the parliament with a handy plurality.

Votes continue to be tallied, but reports indicate that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party captured most of the 45 seats up for grabs. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will maintain its grip on the majority of the 662 seats in the Union Parliament, but now opposition members will have a voice in lawmaking.

Suzanne DiMaggio
Suzanne DiMaggio

The international community should take this moment to encourage Myanmar's moves toward liberalization. For the United States, the time has come to seriously address its myriad financial sanctions on Myanmar to ensure that they are not working at cross-purposes with reform efforts.

Priscilla Clapp
Priscilla Clapp

The reformers in Myanmar believe that popular support for the political transition can be consolidated only if real improvements in the quality of life can be delivered to the country's poverty-struck masses and struggling middle class. They fear that if the country's economic decline is not arrested and reversed relatively soon, it will lead to widespread dissatisfaction and instability, threatening a return to harsh security measures.

The draconian application of U.S. financial sanctions is having a serious negative impact on legitimate economic actors in Myanmar who are struggling to institute positive changes. They are also impeding Americans who are working to assist in the reforms.

While those aspects of the financial sanctions aimed at inhibiting corrupt economic activity should be retained, they should be modified to ensure that they do not prevent legitimate financial transactions essential to the development of a vibrant private sector, that they allow wider assistance for capacity building which Myanmar so urgently needs, and that they contribute positively to the transformation of the country's banking and financial system.

Gradually easing the trade sanctions could help develop certain sectors of the economy as they begin to expand. Investment sanctions should also be reduced as the macroeconomic structures are reformed and anticorruption measures are put in place.

The complex web of U.S. sanctions targeted at Myanmar over the past 20 years includes five federal laws and four presidential executive orders, all of which require different conditions to be met for lifting.

Throughout the sanctions-building process, very little thought was given to how to unpack them if and when it was warranted. By necessity, this will be a gradual process, enabling the United States to continue to test the commitment of President Thein Sein's government to pursuing democratic reforms, halting conflict in ethnic areas and seeking a genuine political settlement and expanding individual freedoms and civic activity.

Some of Myanmar's new leaders are trying to move decisively in the direction of democracy, free enterprise, and the protection of human rights, which the United States has been advocating for decades.

To insist on solutions to all of the country's problems before sanctions can be relieved at all would be self-defeating. A more reliable measure of progress than the by-elections will come in 2015, when Myanmar plans to hold its next general elections.

By this time, the civilian population should have a better idea of whether the government is making sincere efforts to serve the public interest, whether it is safe to run for office and engage openly in political activity, and whether a new generation of socially responsible political and military leaders is emerging.

The United States should do all it can to help Myanmar get to this point.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT