Although Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won most of the seats in parliamentary by-elections on April 1, the results were greeted with wary optimism by Christian organizations.
“This is just the beginning and there is still a very long way to go,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the London-based organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights. CSW had earlier reported that the Myanmar army ransacked a village church and broke up a Christian conference. The Southeast Asian nation has been under military control since 1962. Although an election was held last year, the military retains an overwhelming majority in the legislature.
“We hope Suu Kyi and the NLD will be able to make a difference in Parliament,” Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia team leader, told ENInews.
“But we must also remember that although they appear to have won almost all of the 45 seats up for election this time, there are 664 seats in parliament altogether. The ruling party, combined with the military, still holds 80 per cent of the seats.”
Rogers said that until the government respects human rights, including religious freedom, and stops its “policies of discrimination and persecution of religious minorities,” the international community, especially the European Union, United States, Canada and Australia, should not lift all sanctions.
Maung Maung Myo Chan, director of public affairs and religious liberty at Myanmar’s Seventh-day Adventist Church, told ENInews his church saw the election as “a civic responsibility for the church members to select the country’s leaders.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its annual report released on March 20 that every religious group in the Buddhist state was affected by religious freedom violations and recommended that the U.S. State Department continue to designate Burma a “country of particular concern,” which it has been since 1999.
In 1990, Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory, but the military regime dismissed the results and put her under house arrest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and was released from house arrest in 2010 after continued pressure and sanctions by the international community. She is 66.
Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar. This year, the European Union lifted a travel ban on top Myanmar officials and will review other sanctions, including an assets freeze, on April 23.