'Smooth transition' key to deeper ties

Tapping the potential for deeper US-Myanmar ties largely depends on a smooth transition to government for Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) after its sweeping election victory, analysts said.

Despite the current military regime's loosening of the reins in recent years, Myanmar's diplomatic and economic ties with Washington have remained negligible, as has military cooperation. The US still maintains a range of economic sanctions against Myanmar firms linked to the junta.

United States deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes suggested before the polls that the election outcome could significantly alter the relationship between the two countries. "There is a lot of potential that could come to Burma, not just from the US but from the international community, if this is seen as a successful election," he said, using Myanmar's former name.

Most analysts agreed it is too early to conclude that the election was successful.

"I don't think the US is going to change its policy until there's a better idea of how the Myanmar government moves forward, what kinds of reforms might occur, and the long-term role of the army," said Mr Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for South-east Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Experts said the big unanswered question for the Obama administration is whether the military will fully honour the election results and facilitate a peaceful transfer of power.

The White House response, so far, has been reserved. US President Barack Obama phoned both Ms Suu Kyi and outgoing President Thein Sein when it became clear the NLD would win the election, and urged all parties to respect the result.

Ms Phuong Nguyen, research associate with the Sumitro Chair for South-east Asia Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the post-election phase will be as important as the voting itself.

"I think any steps, including removing the remaining economic sanctions, removing the names of businesses and government officials still on the blacklist, and charting the future of military-to-military engagement will have to wait until after a new government comes in," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline ''Smooth transition' key to deeper ties'. Subscribe