Election 2020

Dozens of Myanmar Political Parties Seek Assurances From Military Chief Over Election Concerns

By Nyein Nyein 15 August 2020

Myanmar’s military chief told dozens of political parties he was willing to do whatever was necessary for the country during a meeting in which representatives of more than one-third of Myanmar’s 95 registered political parties raised concerns about November’s general election, and sought his assurance that they could count on his help if the voting turned unfair.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met with 35 politicians from 34 political parties including some ethnic parties (see list below) in Naypyitaw on Friday. The meeting was organized by Myanmar’s former ruling party, and military proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The majority of the participants are considered pro-military and USDP allies.

It was the second time Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of defense services, has met the political parties in the past 18 months, the first meeting coming in March last year.

National Progressive Party chairman Dr. Nay Zin Latt voiced concern that if the election were not free and fair those affected would have no institution to complain to, and asked for the army chief’s support, according to one of the attendants at the meeting, U Kyaw Swar Soe, chairman of the Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party. Dr Nay Zin Latt served as a presidential adviser during the previous USDP government.

Myanmar commander-in-chief of defense services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (center) meets the leaders of 34 political parties on Aug. 14 in Naypyitaw. / Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services

Other participants called for incumbent Union Election Commission chair U Hla Thein to be replaced, saying they have no trust in him as he was appointed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

During the meeting, some reiterated to the army chief their desire for the government to convene a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC).

The calls for an NDSC meeting are not new; the army chief himself called for such a meeting during an interview earlier this month with Russia’s Politic magazine.

The USDP and its allies have pushed the NLD government several times to convene the NDSC. In March, 15 political parties including the USDP called for a council meeting to discuss the country’s response to COVID-19.

The NLD government has not called a single meeting of the military-dominated NDSC, unlike the previous administration.

Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the discussions between the senior general and the parties centered on the need for the election to be free and fair, adding that the army chief urged them to select candidates whose ability would make them good members of Parliament. According to the senior general’s office, the army chief urged the parties to choose good candidates who would work best for their constituents as well as for the country; maintain the national interest and understand the Tatmadaw’s role in national politics; respect race and religions; and who are free from foreign influence.

Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said the parties had sought a meeting with the army chief since February, but it was delayed due to COVID-19. Inn National Development Party chair U Win Myint, who participated in the meeting at the invitation of the USDP, told The Irrawaddy that the meeting was arranged by the military-backed former ruling party.

According to U Kyaw Swar Soe, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party, the military chief said he was keeping a close eye on developments.

U Kyaw Swar Soe quoted the senior general as saying, “There is nothing I won’t dare to do. I am brave enough to do everything. 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.”

Interpreting the senior general’s comments, U Win Myint of the Inn National Development Party said: “What he means is the military won’t be involved in party politics, but will do anything to defend the state.

“He pledged that the army will provide the security needed to hold the election successfully,” said the chair of the ethnic party.

Party leaders are welcomed to the Myanmar military’s headquarters in Naypyitaw for a meeting with army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (center) on Aug. 14 in Naypyitaw. / Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s website

Another attendant, Daw Thet Thet Khine of the People’s Pioneer Party, told The Irrawaddy that the military chief said he had been very patient, and urged political parties to do the same and not to be hasty.

“He said, ‘Please don’t be hasty. Things have gone wrong due to hastiness [in our country]. We have to take lessons from the past,’” Daw Thet Thet Khine said.

U Ye Tun, a former lawmaker under the previous government and a political analyst, said the meeting was called due to parties’ lack of confidence in the UEC. He said political parties should push for reform of the UEC if they don’t trust it, rather than asking the military chief what he could do for them.

He summarized the political parties’ message to the army chief on Friday as: “There is a possibility that we are going to be mistreated in the election. If that happens, we want to be able to count on you.”

“They didn’t say it, but that’s what they meant. Legally, the military does not have the final say on this issue [of electoral fairness]. So, what do they mean by ‘seeking help’ from the military? In short, it seems they are calling for a coup,” the former lawmaker said.

On the military chief’s response, U Ye Tun said the senior general was careful to base his replies on the Constitution, which says the military is entrusted with the defense of the country.

“What the military chief said was a shrewd response. The naïve ones are those politicians who are asking for his help, creating a bad impression with the public,” he said.

About Friday’s meeting:

Friday’s meeting between political parties and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing included representatives of some parties that were not present at the military chief’s first meeting with parties last year, such as the People’s Pioneer Party, which is led by current Lower House lawmaker Daw Thet Thet Khine. She left the NLD to form the party last year. The National Democratic Force and the Wa National Party were also present for the first time on Friday.

In March 2019, the army chief met representatives of 32 political parties in Naypyitaw and urged them to join hands with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military), which he said was “focusing its efforts on peace and stability”. He said this was necessary because Myanmar still lacked peace and stability in terms of politics and security, as well as economic development. At that meeting, nearly half of the parties were allied with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which arranged accommodation and transportation from its party offices to Naypyitaw for the participating parties. The majority of those parties are not currently represented in Parliament.

The participants at Friday’s meeting:

According to the commander-in-chief’s official website, the politicians who participated in Friday’s meeting were:

1. USDP chairman U Than Htay and secretary U Pike Htwe;
2. National Unity Party joint secretary U Nay Win;
3. New National Democracy Party chairman U Thein Nyunt;
4. National Progressive Party chairman Dr. Nay Zin Latt;
5. New Age People’s Party’s chair U Tun Aung Kyaw;
6. National Democratic Force Party chair U Khin Maung Swe;
7. People’s Pioneer Party chair Daw Thet Thet Khine; and
8. National Political Allies Federation’s chair U Thein Kyi;
9. Wunthanu Democratic Party chair Daw Nang Shwe Kyar;
10. Democracy and Peace Party acting chair U Myo Nyunt;
11. New Age Union Party chair U Aung Than;
12. Bamar People’s Party chair U Aung Than Tint;
13. Diversity and Peace Party chair Daw Sandar Oo;
14. People’s Party of Myanmar Farmers and Workers’ chair U Aung Myo Khaing; 15. 88 Generation Democracy Party vice chair U Thaung Oo;
16. People’s Party chair U Parpi Pyi Hein (aka U Myo Min Tun);
17. Myanmar People’s Democratic Party chair U Htay Kyaw;
18. People Labour Party chair U Kyaw Zin;
19. Public Service Students Party vice chair Daw Khin San Mu;
20. People’s Force party chair U Htay Aung;
21. Union Farmers and Workers Force Party chair U Min Thu;
22. National Development Party chair U Kyaw Sein;
23. Myanmar Farmers Development Party chair U Kyaw Swar Soe; and
24. Grassroots Livelihood Progress Party secretary U Kyaw Myint (aka Michael Kyaw Myint)

The ethnic party representatives were:

25. Inn National Development Party chair U Win Myint;
26. Democratic Party (Myanmar) vice chair U Tint Swe;
27. Lisu National Development Party chair U Shwe Min;
28. Karen National Democratic Party patron U Saw Tun Kyi;
29. Kayah State Democratic Party chair U Pho Yel;
30. Mro National Solidarity Organization vice chair U Kyaw Tun Khine;
31. Rakhine State National Force Party chair U Aye Kyaing;
32. Kokang Democracy and Unity Party chair U Tun Naing;
33. Wa National Party vice chair U Yan Kyaw; and
34. Pa-O National Organization vice chair U Khun Maung Thaung;

Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report.

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