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Van Hollen Joins Risch, Menendez, and Colleagues in Bipartisan Letter to Administration in Support of Burma’s Elections

January 14, 2020

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Wash.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), in sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and USAID Administrator Mark Green, asking them to ensure that the administration continue to support Burma as it moves toward free and democratic parliamentary elections in 2020.

“Burma’s 2020 elections are a crucial next step towards institutionalizing democracy and preventing backsliding into authoritarian rule,” wrote the senators. “Free and fair elections will buoy supporters of democracy, and narrow the likelihood of a retrenchment of illiberal forces within the government. Free and fair elections can help increase unity in a Burma still afflicted with conflict and religious and ethnic strife. Illegitimate elections would only worsen these problems, and possibly cause escalation in conflict.”

“Further institutionalizing democracy is also important to increase Burma’s resilience in the face of external challenges, such growing Chinese Communist Party influence in numerous aspects of Burmese society,” continued the senators. “Working with the Burmese government and civil society in advance of these elections is important to demonstrating the value of U.S. partnership.”

Full text of the letter is below and linked here.

Dear Secretary Pompeo and Administrator Green:

We write today to express support for the Administration’s recent efforts to support Burma in the run-up to Parliamentary elections set for later this year, and to encourage continued robust U.S. engagement in this regard over the coming year. Although elections will not be held until the end of 2020, preparations must begin well in advance to ensure they are free and fair.

Burma’s 2020 elections are a crucial next step towards institutionalizing democracy and preventing backsliding into authoritarian rule. Free and fair elections will buoy supporters of democracy, and narrow the likelihood of a retrenchment of illiberal forces within the government. Free and fair elections can help increase unity in a Burma still afflicted with conflict and religious and ethnic strife. Illegitimate elections would only worsen these problems, and possibly cause escalation in conflict.

Further institutionalizing democracy is also important to increase Burma’s resilience in the face of external challenges, such growing Chinese Communist Party influence in numerous aspects of Burmese society. Working with the Burmese government and civil society in advance of these elections is important to demonstrating the value of U.S. partnership.

We were encouraged by the Administration’s dedication of funds last year to election assistance. This year, it is imperative that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) increase that assistance, particularly to civil society organizations. In particular, we believe it is important to prioritize the following areas:

  • Providing the necessary infrastructure for free and fair elections, including strengthening the Union Election Commission to function as an independent electoral management body and establishing regulatory frameworks that foster open and transparent processes;
  • Supporting independent media outlets and local journalists to provide high-quality coverage and analysis of both the pre-election period and the election itself;
  • Supporting civic education, media literacy among the general public, voter education training, capacity building for “get out the vote” campaigns, and civil society efforts to conduct independent election monitoring efforts; and
  • Building the capacity of political parties, particularly newly consolidated political parties representing ethnic minorities, so that all political actors can compete on an equal playing field.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  We look forward to continuing to work with the State Department and USAID to ensure robust U.S. engagement in the lead up to Burma’s elections in 2020.



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