Election 2020

Critics Slam Myanmar Pro-Military Parties’ Meeting With Army Chief

By San Yamin Aung 18 August 2020

YANGON—A meeting at which 34 Myanmar political parties including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) sought the military chief’s help on electoral matters has drawn widespread criticism as a “dishonest” move aimed at increasing the military’s involvement in politics in the run-up to November’s general election.

After requesting a meeting since February, representatives of the parties on Friday met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to discuss their concerns about the election. During the meeting, the parties asked the military chief to replace the chairman and members of the Union Election Commission (UEC), saying they no longer had trust in the body, and asked for assurances that they would be able to count on the senior general’s help if the Nov. 8 election turned unfair.

However, the move has met with widespread disapproval and even condemnation.

Sai Leik, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said the parties are taking the wrong approach.

“If they think the UEC is biased and unfair, they should discuss it directly with [the commission],” he said.

If that did not resolve the problem, he said, the parties should raise the issue in Parliament or request a meeting with the President.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, the vice chair of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), agreed. He said concerns about the election or any political issue should be raised with the President, not the army chief.

“They should speak up if they dislike the UEC—we don’t like it either—but they shouldn’t seek help from the military chief, who doesn’t have the final say on it [legally]. The military shouldn’t interfere in the issue, as once they do, there can’t be fairness,” he added.

Friday’s meeting was organized by the former ruling party—and military proxy—the USDP. A majority of the parties that participated are pro-military USDP allies not currently represented in Parliament. They also reiterated to the army chief their desire for the government to convene the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council meeting.

Myanmar army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing (center) and U Than Htay (left), chairman of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, attend a meeting between the military chief and leaders of 34 political parties on Aug. 14 in Naypyitaw. / Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s website

Daw Noe Noe Htet San, vice chair of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), said she saw Friday’s meeting as an effort to expand the military’s role in politics.

She said the parties’ requests to the military chief showed their reliance on the army and their willingness to work with it in politics, putting them at odds with the pro-democracy parties.

Myanmar’s pro-democracy parties have continually called for the full removal of the military from the political arena to allow democracy to flourish and the establishment of a democratic federal union in the country.

The country’s powerful military retains its leadership role in politics under the undemocratic 2008 Constitution and continues to wield considerable power. The charter reserves 25 percent of all parliamentary seats and control of three important ministries—Defense, Border Affairs and Home Affairs—for the military.

“If the political parties are willing to build a federal democratic union, their actions and words should match democratic norms and standards. If not, it would be hard to believe they actually have that desire,” Daw Noe Noe Htet San said.

During the meeting, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing urged the parties to choose good candidates who understand the Tatmadaw’s role in national politics along with a few other requirements. Replying to the parties’ concerns, the senior general said there is nothing that he wouldn’t dare to do for the country.

“I am brave enough to do anything. Anything that could have a negative impact on the country, the people and the future of the military [is my concern]. I’m following everything,” one of the participants quoted the senior general as saying.

Awng Hkam from the KSPP voiced concern over the military chief’s choice of words, which have been interpreted by many critics as threatening a coup.

“I worry about his assertion that he is willing to do whatever is necessary. It is true that there is nothing that he won’t dare to do, but no one should go against democratic standards,” he said.

U Min Zeya, vice chair of the People’s Party established by the 88 Generation Students group, also said the military chief’s choice of the word “dare” sounded like a challenge.

“Such a word shouldn’t be used at a time when we are moving toward democracy. The meeting, seeking his help and the answers, did not support the establishment of a federal democratic union.”

Additional reporting by Zin Linn Htet

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