RANGOON — In an address on Tuesday to officers and rank-and-file members of the military in Sittwe, Arakan State, commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing reiterated a familiar nationalist refrain widely interpreted as a call against voting for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.
“Because [you] will make a choice soon regarding politics, it is important that [you] make the right choice,” Min Aung Hlaing told the audience while accompanying President Thein Sein on a tour of Arakan State just four days ahead of the general election.
“The leader of the country should be the one who will develop the region and the country; is imbued with the four outlooks [a reference to familiarity with politics, economics, administration and defense]; understands the Tatmadaw [Burma Army]; is able to righteously and systematically take care of your own race and religion; and is not associated, with or under the influence of, foreigners, foreign countries or foreign agencies,” he added.
The army chief has accompanied Thein Sein on many of his tours in recent months, meeting local residents, the service personnel of local battalions and their families.
The instruction from Min Aung Hlaing marked at least the fourth time that he has attempted to sway the vote of members of the military. The first known remarks came at a meeting of high-ranking officials in September, followed by a speech at the National Defense College in Naypyidaw.
While those appeals were largely similar in urging audiences to consider a secular set of criterion for presidential candidates, Min Aung Hlaing’s National Defense College speech was notably different in that it went on to add religious qualifications and the warning against voting for individuals under foreign influence.
Subsequent remarks on a tour of Karenni State also included the religious and race-based qualifications and cautionary remarks on foreign elements.
Many have inferred that the senior-general’s comments are directed at the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Suu Kyi, who has faced accusations that she is overly sympathetic to the nation’s minority Muslims and not capable of defending Buddhism against perceived threats posed by Islam.
Those attacks have come, in part, from members of the Association for Protection of Race and Religion, including nationalist Buddhist monks, who have increasingly inserted themselves into Burma’s politics in the lead-up to the Nov. 8 election.
The organization, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, was a leading advocate for four so-called race and religion protection laws passed earlier this year. Suu Kyi’s NLD opposed the legislation, citing concerns that the laws impinged on women’s rights and were designed to target Muslims.
Likewise the cautionary note sounded by Min Aung Hlaing regarding foreigners has led to speculation that Suu Kyi’s deceased husband and children, who are British nationals, were being spotlighted by the senior-general.
Those familial ties to Britain bar Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency, owing to a constitutional provision that prevents anyone from taking the office whose spouse or offspring owe allegiance to a foreign power.