Election Chief Under Fire for Raising Prospect of Coup

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Zu Zu 18 December 2014

RANGOON — Senior members of political parties in Burma have slammed Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman Tin Aye for comments he made this week signaling the possibility of another military coup if “instability” threatened the nation.

During remarks at meeting with artists at the Micasa Hotel in Rangoon, in which he also defended the Burma Army’s continued role in politics, Tin Aye on Tuesday said the military would seize power in the event of political or ethnic turmoil in the country. He added, however, that such an outcome would not be desirable.

Members of opposition and ethnic political parties have responded unfavorably, saying the comments were inappropriate, coming from the UEC chairman at a time when the prospect of constitutional reform is stirring considerable debate in Burma. Pro-democracy and ethnic minority factions are angling for an overhaul of the charter, a prospect that has been dismissed by Burma’s politically powerful military establishment.

“He should not have said so as the UEC chairman,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin, general secretary of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). “The country is still in abject poverty even as the international community is giving assistance and rebuilding economic links with the country. Things will go from bad to worse if [the army] launches a coup because of instability. He clearly intends to threaten the people by saying so.”

Any instability, according to Aye Tha Aung of the Arakan National Party (ANP), could be handled collaboratively by the country’s politicians and civil society, and would not require the military’s intervention.

“The country has deteriorated in every way because of coups by the army,” he said. “Burmese citizens still can’t escape from poverty brought about by dictators. [He] should not say to the people that [the army] could stage a coup again. He intends to impede the progress of the country by saying so.”

Tin Aye, an ex-general and former parliamentarian for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), on Tuesday also justified the Burma Army’s guaranteed 25 percent of seats in Parliament by claiming that military parliamentarians were playing a supporting role in the country’s democratization.

Phyu Phyu Thin, a Lower House lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD), called on President Thein Sein to reprimand Tin Aye for his comments.

“What he said was beyond his authority. He exceeded the authority of the president by saying so. We’ll have to wait and see how the president will handle it, as he appointed him. He [Tin Aye] said earlier that he would ensure free and fair elections. He is now talking of a coup in case of violence, which is quite contradictory.”

Political analyst Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein said that because the 2008 Constitution allows the military to take a leading role in national politics as well as effectively authorizing a military coup, he viewed Tin Aye’s words as a warning to political parties not to stir things up.

Condemnation of the UEC chairman’s remarks was not, however, universal.

Hla Swe, an Upper House lawmaker with the USDP, echoed Tin Aye, saying the army would need to seize power if the country descended into chaos.

“What would happen to the country if the army did not seize power in the case of instability? The army would seize power if things like the 1988 uprising happened again,” he said. “If backsliding is not wanted, then make sure there is not instability.”

At present, the constitutional impasse is not the only development dimming reformists’ hopes; efforts to end the country’s long-running civil war with ethnic armed rebel groups appear to have stalled in recent months, though negotiators are due to meet in Rangoon next week to discuss prospects for a nationwide ceasefire as the first step toward a durable peace.