Burma has invited election monitors to observe its parliamentary polls for the first time, officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said Tuesday.
According to the BBC, ASEAN said it had been asked to send 23 delegates to witness the April 1 vote, including two parliamentarians from each member state as well as media representatives.
Forty-eight seats in Burma’s parliament are being contested in the elections. Allowing monitors from neighboring countries is a major step for the insular, isolated country, which shrugged off international efforts to observe its previous two polls in 2010 and 1990, according to the Associated Press.
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It is thought the US and European Union will start to ease economic sanctions on Burma as early as next month if the April elections are deemed to be free and fair, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The US, EU and United Nations have called the upcoming polls “a key test” of Burma’s commitment to reforms cautiously underway in the country, including increasing press freedom and the release of political prisoners.
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Critics accuse the country’s military-backed civilian government, which took office a year ago after almost 50 years of army rule, of committing human rights abuses and failing to implement key reforms.
Burmese President Thein Sein indicated last month that he would tackle international concerns over manipulated elections, saying he would “seriously consider” allowing ASEAN observers to monitor the April polls.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting the elections for the first time since 1990, when the military refused to recognize her National League for Democracy party’s victory. April’s vote is not expected to change the balance of Burma, but it is still seen as hugely symbolic.
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