Burma’s parliamentary by-elections on Sunday were seen as a make or break moment for the reform process that has taken place over the last two years. The country, long ruled by one of the world most repressive authoritarian regimes, inaugurated a new parliament and a nominally civilian government in early 2011, though both are still dominated by the military and its allies. The authorities have since taken a series of other steps, such as the release of some political prisoners that were designed to improve relations with democratic powers including the United States. The international community in turn has sought to engage the new leadership and encourage further reforms.
Hillary Clinton’s impending visit to Burma will be the first by a U.S. secretary of state in 50 years. It comes after a year of tentative reform by a nominally civilian government that has raised hopes for a more comprehensive political opening, but this optimism needs to be tempered by caution.