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McConnell Criticizes Lack of Constitutional Overhaul in Myanmar

Suu Kyi, center, received a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the Capitol in September 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor Thursday morning to express frustration about the pace of change in Myanmar.  

The Kentucky Republican warned he would push for delays in furthering trade relations with the country, which is also known as Burma, after a bid to overhaul the Southeast Asian nation's constitution was thwarted.  

"Those of us who've followed Burma also know that, given its history, the military fears change, ethnic unrest, and the uncertainty that more democratic government might bring. That's well-acknowledged. But improving relations with the United States meant both sides would have to take some risks. This was a moment for the military to take another important step on its end, and this was a missed opportunity," McConnell said.  

Myanmar was governed for years by a repressive military junta and has taken steps toward democracy, but in his floor statement, McConnell reiterated previous concerns with restrictions on eligibility for public office contained in the country's current constitution.  

"There’s little doubt that Burma’s constitution contains numerous flaws that need to be revised if the government is to be truly representative," McConnell said. "First, it unreasonably restricts who can be a candidate for president — a not-so-subtle attempt to bar the country's most popular opposition figure from even standing for office. But then it goes even further, ensuring an effective military veto over constitutional change — for instance, amendments about who can run for the presidency — by requiring more than three-fourths parliamentary support in a legislature where the constitution also reserves one-fourth of seats for the military."  

McConnell is making a clear reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader with whom he has long had a close relationship.  

McConnell called for postponing some efforts to normalize relations until after Burma's fall elections.  

"In light of the recent defeat of constitutional reform, I believe that steps, such as including Burma in the Generalized System of Preferences program, should be put on hold until after this fall’s election. Only after the ballots have been cast and counted in Burma can an appropriate evaluation be made about the pace of reform in the country and whether additional normalization of relations is warranted," McConnell said.  

 

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