Military Chief’s Comment on Tatmadaw ‘Representing’ the People Draws Backlash Online

By San Yamin Aung 12 July 2018

YANGON — Military commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing’s claim that the military (or Tatmadaw) represents all Myanmar nationals in his speech to the Union Peace Conference has drawn a strong negative response from the public on social media.

Addressing hundreds of delegates from the government, ethnic armed groups, political parties and Parliament on the first day of the conference on Wednesday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that neither the ethnic armed groups nor the country’s political parties can claim to represent the entire population of 52 million. He added that political parties only represent their own supporters.

“Our Tatmadaw, being the people’s Tatmadaw born of ethnic people, is an organization representing the state and the people,” he said, asserting the legitimacy of the Tatmadaw and its positions on national issues.

The senior-general’s remarks went viral on social media and quickly met with objections. Many netizens began posting “The Tatmadaw doesn’t represent me” on their Facebook accounts.

Human rights activist Ko Moe Thway, who wrote “The Myanmar Army doesn’t represent me” on Wednesday night, said he could not agree with the military chief’s words.

“[The senior general’s] statement could be misinterpreted to mean that the military reflects the public’s voice. That’s why I wrote [my comment],” he said.

“The armed services is a profession, like other occupations in which people choose to work; it doesn’t need to be elected [by the people],” the activist said. The incumbent National League for Democracy-led government was elected by an overwhelming majority in the 2015 general election, whereas the Tatmadaw is an agency of the Ministry of Defense, just like agencies under other ministries of the Union government, he said, adding that the commander-in-chief was comparing apples and oranges.

Ko Moe Thway added that the military chief’s comments would have been legitimate if he had said that the Tatmadaw “comprises” rather than “represents” many different ethnicities.

Daw Myint Myint Khin Pe, co-founder of the Free Funeral Services Society (FFSS)—which is known for its free funeral services for the poor, as well as its education initiatives and free health care services—also posted “the Tatmadaw doesn’t represent me.”

“I just made it clear that the Tatmadaw doesn’t represent us, and what he said in his speech doesn’t reflect us,” she said.

U Nyan Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, objected to the senior general’s comments that political parties only represent those who support them.

“I would say it is totally wrong,” U Nyan Win told reporters in Naypyitaw. He did not comment on Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s comment that the military represents all Myanmar nationals.

Buddhist monk U Issariya, who played a leading role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, also posted “the Myanmar Tatmadaw doesn’t represent me” on social media on Thursday.

He said that the Tatmadaw doesn’t represent the people — rather, it represents a group of people.