NAYPYITAW — The Tatmadaw cannot be removed from the country’s politics, according to an official from the military’s National Defense College (NDC) at a panel discussion on civilian-military relations during the Forum on Myanmar’s Democratic Transition in Naypyitaw on Friday.
“Considering the reality, it is impossible to remove the military from politics,” said Col Aung Myint Oo, head of internal and external relations at NDC.
“For a government to be strong, it needs to solve security problems in its territory. For Myanmar to do so, it has to make use of the Tatmadaw as one of its institutions.”
Civilian-military relations has been a hot topic following the arrest and prosecution of three journalists by the military under the Unlawful Associations Act, and Yangon Region chief minister U Phyo Min’s statement in July that the military’s commander-in-chief was on the same level as a director-general according to state protocol in a democracy.
Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution guarantees defense services participation in national political leadership roles. The military is assured 25 percent of parliamentary seats—enough to veto—and control of the home, defense, and border affairs ministries.
At the forum, representatives from the civilian side of the government suggested putting the military under civilian control while military representatives encouraged cooperation.
Shan State minister for planning and economy U Soe Nyunt Lwin told The Irrawaddy that many of the problems facing the country could be solved by putting the military under civilian control.
He said the military was under civilian control in periods under British and Japanese rule, and following the 1947 Constitution.
“If the military is willing to be under civilian control, many problems including land rights for farmers and internal peace could be solved,” said U Soe Nyunt Lwin.
“In Indonesia, the military took the lead role in implementing transition. So is the case in Myanmar. But, in Indonesia, the military didn’t intervene in politics,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Col Aung Myint Oo argued that defense forces are exploited for political motives.
He questioned the theory that armed forces should be under civilian control, saying that it amounts to building mutual trust and cooperation.
“Taking a look at the foreign policies of some countries, you can see that the armed forces are necessary,” said the colonel.
He suggested the government should be able to solve the problems itself if it wants to remove the military from politics: “Unless it can do so, it will have to make use of the army,” said the colonel.
Though the National League for Democracy (NLD) takes a restrained approach toward the Tatmadaw according to its policy on national reconciliation, the Tatmadaw stands on its own policy, and there is an imbalance in the national reconciliation process, said political analyst U Than Soe Naing.
“According to the very essence of the 2008 Constitution, it is the Tatmadaw which will decide the fate of Myanmar’s politics. Myanmar will get peace only when they display magnanimity,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo, a civil-military relations expert, said during the forum that Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) is not about the removal of the military from politics, but putting defense ministry policies under civilian guidance.
“It is about the cooperation between military and political leaders with the civilian side taking the leading role. It is not about the civilian government commanding military strategies. The military strategies will be designed by military leaders with accountability and responsibility,” she said.
Additional reporting by Htun Htun. Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.