Election 2020

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Warns of Incitement After Myanmar Military Chief’s Pre-Vote Attack on Govt

By The Irrawaddy 4 November 2020

YANGON—Elections are problematic. Myanmar is no exception, with the ongoing early voting attracting accusations of missteps on the part of the country’s electoral body, the Union Election Commission (UEC).

Making matters more complicated, the country’s powerful military has stepped in, criticizing the government for the UEC’s mishandling of preparations for the general election scheduled for Nov. 8. In a country like Myanmar, where the military historically had a grip on power for decades and is still involved in politics, even under the current democratically elected civilian government, such a message from the men in uniform resonates strongly enough to send shockwaves through the public and political circles. Some doomsayers wonder if the military’s criticism heralds a possible coup.

The statement issued Monday by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s office, casts doubt on the ability of the UEC, formed by the government, to hold a free and fair election, citing voter list errors and missteps in conducting early voting, among other issues.

No wonder the statement sparked criticism among the public. Some have complained that the military chief, who in theory answers to the president, went too far, and questioned the legitimacy of his comments on the government.

Less than 24 hours after the office released the statement, Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took to Facebook with a short public message, saying that the public was already aware there would be attempts to destabilize the election.

“Now we are facing things that could spark our anger. They are just intentionally inciting the public’s righteous anger. Don’t let yourself to be trapped into this,” she said.

There is no reference to the military statement in her short message. However, given the circumstances, people can easily make sense of what she is referring to.

Following the statement on Tuesday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing told local news outlet Popular News that he was dismayed by the UEC’s mishandling of the situation, saying he had expected a free and fair election. (The UEC is formed by the government.)

“In 2015 I said that the UEC had the final say on the election results and we would accept it. This time it seems that we have to be very cautious. I don’t want it to happen,” he said.

His point-blank criticism of the government came at a time when some international analysts have expressed doubt that the election will be free and fair, citing the UEC’s controversial cancellation of the poll in some areas due to instability, among other reasons.

On the legitimacy of his statement, the senior general insisted that it was valid because the military is the guardian of the Constitution, which encourages a multi-party democracy in Myanmar.

“To make it happen [the flourishing of the democratic system], the military is supposed to speak out. If we don’t, who will?”

However, due to Myanmar people’s skepticism of the military following nearly five decades under its rule until 2011, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the senior general’s message is viewed differently.

Whether there is any deeper significance in the military’s statement, only those concerned may know. For now, the rumor mill grinds on.

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