Lawmaker Blocked from Asking about Gov’t-Military Ties on House Floor

By Htet Naing Zaw 13 May 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Lower House speaker refused to allow a National League for Democracy lawmaker’s question on relations between the Myanmar military and the government to be answered publicly on the House floor.

U Than Lin Lin, a Lower House lawmaker from Maese constituency of Kayah State, submitted his query as a “starred question” so that it would be addressed publicly. He had asked “whether the Tatmadaw is under the [command of] the Union government, and whether there are conflicts between the government and the ethnic armed organizations” and wanted the question put into the parliamentary agenda for Friday’s Lower House session, but it was removed from the starred list before the session began.

“The speaker would not allow the question to be asked publicly at the parliamentary session,” said the lawmaker. “But the director general of the Lower House of Parliament Office told me that the answer will be given in written form. But either way, I am satisfied as despite the objection, I was able to raise the question.”

U Tun Tun Hein, the deputy speaker of the Lower House, told the media after Friday’s parliamentary session that the speaker has the authority to decide whether to put lawmakers’ questions on the starred list or to remove it from the agenda. If a lawmaker is given permission to ask the question, a Union-level minister or deputy minister has to be present before Parliament and answer the question, but when the question is not starred, the respective delegate answers the MP’s question through the speaker.

U Than Lin Lin said he asked the question “as there is a public view that the government and the Tatmadaw are at odds.” He said that being a member of an ethnic minority, he wanted to know if it was true.

He declined to give his own view of the relations between the NLD government and the Tatmadaw, or of who has command over whom, but he said the two sides are cooperating and providing checks and balances for each other. But he said public opinion differed on that. He said his question was approved by the party, but not the speaker.

Daw Zin Mar Aung, a Lower House lawmaker for the NLD said that as the Tatmadaw controls 25 percent of the legislature, plus three key ministerial portfolios in the executive branch in accordance with the Constitution, they are not under the hand of any ruling party.

Under the 2008 Constitution, the Army chief has the right to name the ministers of defense, home affairs and border and security affairs, and the President appoints them with the approval of Parliament. All of them must have reached the age of 60, but not yet retired.

“Under the 2008 Constitution, [we are] not yet a democracy,” Daw Zin Mar Aung told The Irrawaddy.

Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, the military spokesman, said the Tatmadaw follows the mandates set in the Constitution. And the Tatmadaw reports directly to the president on some issues, because the charter vests all executive power in the President.

Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said, “The Union government and the President are informed ahead of time of every action of the Tatmadaw, including the military operations and some others. The operations in Rakhine State are presented to the government and President’s Office and proceed with their approval.”

He also said the commander-in-chief has the power to adjudicate cases involving defense services personnel in courts-martial, in line with international standards. But he said soldiers must follow the laws of both the military and civilians, and the cases of those who commit crimes such as murder and rape while off duty are transferred to civilian courts.

Political observers in Naypyitaw say current civilian-military relations are more akin to diplomatic relations, rather than the relationship that existed under the previous administration, when General-turned-President U Thein Sein and the Army chief, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, had a close relationship.

However, the President’s Office in October 2018 said State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing met privately and discussed the current affairs of the country.

U Aung Thu Nyein, the director of communications at the Institute for Strategy and Policy in Myanmar, said, “The role of civilian government should be expanded, if not, the role of the military would get bigger. For instance, there are things the government can do, such as calling meetings of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) and setting up guidelines on what to do at NDSC meetings.”

He said if the government could not take the leading role, the Tatmadaw would be taking initiatives by themselves as it enjoys its rights to specific authorities enshrined in the Constitution and the civilian sector cannot intervene in some cases.

He said, the “Army chief is at the same rank as the vice president. As far as we know, the Army chief informs the President prior to his domestic trips by letter. If he has to travel abroad, he informs the president himself. They follow the protocol. But in some cases, the current president needs to work harder and to lead.”

The Myanmar government is trying to achieve a democratic transition period and the Tatmadaw’s involvement is very important in this transition. Thus, the ruling party is making efforts to move forward and work together with the Tatmadaw under the policy of national reconciliation. In the meantime there are concerns of another military coup.

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