RANGOON — The European Union has offered to send a delegation of observers to Burma’s eagerly awaited 2015 general election, the regional bloc’s ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation said Wednesday.
The EU has been enthusiastic in its response to reforms in Burma since the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein took power in March 2011. The 28-member union rapidly canceled economic sanctions against Burma and in July this year reinstated preferential trade terms for goods imported from the country.
The first ever ambassador for the EU delegation in Burma, Roland Kobia, a Belgian, presented his credentials to the Burma government in September. At a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday, Kobia said he was hopeful about the coming general election, at which democracy icon Aung San SuuKyi has said she plans to contest the presidency.
“We are assured by the feedback that we receive—by what we hear from the government, also by the [Burmese] Union Election Commission—that there is a commitment, that the elections will be open, free, transparent, fair,” he said. “We welcome all that, and we are ready to support all stakeholders in order to make this happen.”
He said an informal offer to monitor the polls, which he believes is the first from the international community, has already been made.
“We have made an offer to the country that if they were interested in having an election monitoring mission—which gives, you know, a cloud of credibility to elections—we will be very happy to contribute,” he said. “I’m sure other countries will be interested in doing so. I don’t think there will be a lack of interest from the international community in this regard.”
SuuKyi, a co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, has called for the 2008 Constitution to be amended before the election. The document, drafted by the former military government of Snr-Gen Than Shwe, precludes Suu Kyi, who was married to and is the mother of foreign nationals, from the presidency. The Constitution also guarantees a quarter of parliamentary seats to the military.
Although he declined to go into details about changes to the Constitution, Kobia said, “It’s a good thing that the Constitution is being looked at to see if it can be improved to match with the new history of Myanmar [Burma] since 2011.”
The European Union has been a supporter of the peace process in Burma and has provided start-up funding for the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-associated organization. Although the government hasyet to secure full support among ethnic armed groups for a nationwide ceasefire, and while fighting continues in Kachin State, Kobia said ceasefires already signed with 14 rebel groups showed progress.
“For the time being we believe that we have put our money in something where things are happening,” he said.
The ambassador said that although he was the first in his role as head of a fully-fledged EU mission to Burma, the regional group had been giving assistance to the country, mainly in the form of humanitarian aid, since 1996. A total of 300 million euros (US$413 million) has been given in that time, and 70 million euros of EU-backed projects are ongoing, he said.
He said other projects the European Union is interested in backing in Burma include an investment protection agreement to safeguard foreign businesses coming into the country and training for Burma’s police force.
“The police is the body in a country that should be to help people, to protect the people, and not, you know, to bother the people,” he said. “So we have proposed to the government to have training for the police to our own international standards and so forth.”
Kobia also said that the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, would attend twodays of meetings next month as part of the “EU-Myanmar Task Force,” with events to be held in Rangoon on Nov. 14 and in Naypyidaw on Nov. 15.