On Armed Forces Day, One Holiday, Two Visions

By Lawi Weng 28 March 2018

YANGON — The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, held separate events to mark the 73rd anniversary of Armed Forces Day on Tuesday and shared very different ideas about how to build peace and achieve national reconciliation.

While the Tatmadaw said Myanmar needed a strong and modern army to protect the country, the NLD said the military should stay out of national and ethnic affairs in order for Myanmar to see an end to decades of civil war.

The NLD marked the anniversary at its headquarters in Yangon, going with Anti-Fascist Day instead of its official name, preferred by the military. March 27 celebrates the beginning of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.

“Exerting influence in national and ethnic affairs with military might must be ended. Resorting to armed conflicts that result from suspicions and grudges between ethnicities and national people must also be ended,” the NLD’s statement on the anniversary reads.

It adds that the NLD would never allow the loss of the country’s hard-won democratic gains, the result of the people’s resolve and perseverance.

About 100 party members attended the NLD’s event, at which party leaders recalled the hard work the NLD has put into leading the country toward democracy. They urged party members to also work hard to further their cause and to heed the example of party chair Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader.

The NLD attributed its 2015 election victory to its years of resistance to military rule, from the pro-democracy uprising of 1988 on through the start of the transition to a semi-civilian government in 2010.

Party leaders said the NLD remained committed to achieving national reconciliation and a federal system accommodating the country’s many ethnic groups. Only when Myanmar achieves peace can it truly develop, they added.

“If we want to build a safe, peaceful and prosperous nation, this can only be achieved when political parties and the Tatmadaw cooperate with the people,” U Hantha Myint, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, said in his speech. “Therefore, by embracing a policy of national reconciliation, the NLD is working hard to unify the political parties, Tatmadaw and the people.”

Since the NLD took power, U Hantha Myint said, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has prioritized peace in order to establish a union based on democracy and a federal system.

“To do so, we have called for the problems between us to be solved at the table rather than with armed fighting,” he said.

A Martial Mandate

Control of Myanmar is effectively split between State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, each with a different vision of how to end the civil war.

Leaders of the country’s ethnic armed groups blame the slow pace of progress toward peace at least in part on the pair’s fraught relationship. Still, many of them see in the NLD a more committed partner than the Tatmadaw, which has been fighting with the armed groups for decades. The military-drafted 2008 Constitution prevents the government from ordering the Tatmadaw to stop fighting, or from amending the Constitution without the Tatmadaw’s consent.

Since taking the reins of government in early 2016 — minus three key ministries and a critical quarter of parliamentary seats, all still firmly in the Tatmadaw’s hands — the NLD has made little obvious progress toward peace. A planned national peace conference has been repeatedly pushed back as the Tatmadaw has blocked efforts by some ethnic groups to hold public consultations with their members in preparation.

Marking Tuesday’s anniversary in Naypyitaw, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the Tatmadaw had to be strong, modern and patriotic to protect the country’s independence.

“Only when the Tatmadaw is strong will the nation be strong,” the army chief said, citing a favorite saying.

Speaking on the peace process, he advocated pragmatism over idealism.

“During the peace talks, it will be more practical to negotiate about probable things, in view of long-term benefits, instead of claiming the impossible ones and procrastinating,” he said.

The general said Myanmar achieved independence by fighting off the Japanese with the help of the people, saving the country from disintegration.

He said a solid foundation had been laid for a “smooth” transition to democracy and that the Tatmadaw has played an important role in the country throughout its history.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing urged people to practice a “Myanmar spirit without racial and religious discrimination, and to strive for the country’s development into a cohesive union. Instead of pointing to the past and finding faults, it is now high time to learn the lessons from the past and to [work] for the country’s development.”