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Myanmar Takes Third Step To Democracy

Myanmar President Thein Sein at the 2012 World Economic Forum

The first step was releasing political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi from twenty years of house arrest and allowing her to run for parliament. The second step was holding reasonably fair and free elections for the first time in decades. The third step happened on Monday.

More than 500 prisoners were released under an amnesty program. In between, the parliament took a half-step, laying out the range of their power by firing all nine members of the constitutional court, demanding an independent judiciary, one of the most important aspects of a true democracy. The military, which had controlled Myanmar for 49 years, has so far kept its promise to withdraw from power.

The government did not identify the released prisoners, but Naing Naing, a member of Madame Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said they hoped that the remaining 424 political prisoners were among those released. The Thai-based Association for Political Prisoners verified that there were political prisoners among those released, but they had no confirmation of the number. What is not expected to be released are former military intelligence officers.

President Thein Sein is scheduled to arrive in New York on September 24 to address the United Nations General Assembly. It is the annual gathering of heads of state who all address the General Assembly over the course of a week or so. Madame Suu Kyi arrived Monday. She is being awarded a Congressional medal.

Seven hundred political prisoners had already been released. The reforms that have been implemented since May 2011 have convinced Western nations to re-evaluate their relations with Myanmar, and new trade agreements have been negotiated, old sanctions are being lifted. His United Nations address is an opportunity for President Thein Sein to reintroduce himself and his country to the world.

 

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