Colorful Campaigns Set to Expand Against Military Appointments

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 16 September 2015

RANGOON — One month after medical staff across Burma launched a “black ribbon” campaign to protest the appointment of military officers to the Ministry of Health, similar movements have taken root involving professionals of all stripes, concerned over a spate of army appointments to civilian positions.

On August 10, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel based in Mandalay launched a campaign calling on medics and supporters to don black ribbons in opposition to the appointment in July of up to 14 army officers to serve in the health ministry.

Following the public backlash, Health Minister Than Aung made a verbal pledge to halt the further appointment of military staff.

In early September, lawyers based in Naypyidaw launched their own “yellow ribbon” campaign in protest at the appointment of up to 20 military officers to the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw.

Lawyer and leader of the campaign, Khin Maung Zaw, told The Irrawaddy the movement had quickly found traction in other urban centers, including Rangoon, Mandalay and Moulmein.

“In August, army officers were appointed to the [Naypyidaw] supreme court office in the director and deputy director-general posts. We don’t accept this, that’s why we started this movement,” he said.

“The government is now appointing these army officers to ministries intentionally. These men will control the ministries.”

In a country subjected to nearly five decades of direct military rule, army appointees across various key government departments and ministries have long stifled the influence of civilian staff.

Some fear the trend of military appointments to key positions within the bureaucracy will accelerate ahead of the country’s coming general election on Nov. 8.

“We don’t want this militarization until the next government [takes office] beyond the election. If the new government [appears to be] against the military, these army officers will make life difficult,” Khin Maung Zaw said.

The lawyer said the campaign would expand as other government employees harbored similar frustrations over the militarization of their departments.

“Many civilian government officials contacted us and said they wanted to campaign. We will work with other color ribbon campaigners soon,” he said.

A growing movement of likeminded campaigners is emerging around the country.

A group of geologists working in the Ministry of Energy began their own red ribbon campaign on Tuesday after Vice President Nyan Tun’s personal assistant, a Lt-Col, was appointed to a senior post.

In Mandalay, a group of electrical engineers began a blue ribbon movement in early September and in Naypyidaw, educational professionals, as well as authors and poets, will wear green and purple ribbons respectively for the cause, according to Khin Maung Zaw.

“The purple campaign is in support of all color ribbon campaigns around the country,” said Thein Khin, a poet based in Naypyidaw’s Pyinmana Township in Naypyidaw. “It means we don’t like militarization.”

Kyi Myint, a member of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network in Rangoon, said the multicolored ribbon campaign would spread across the country.

“Army officers do as they are ordered and work for their chief. They don’t serve the people, that’s why we are campaigning. I believe these campaigns will win,” he said.