Military Criticizes NLD Govt for Neglecting Myanmar’s Security Council

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 September 2019

NAYPYITAW—Military spokesperson Major-General Tun Tun Nyi criticized the National League for Democracy (NLD) government Saturday for having not held a single meeting of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) since the party took power in 2016.

“Will the current government call an NSDC meeting only when a war breaks out?” asked the spokesperson during a military press conference on Saturday. “There must be regular assessments of the current situation, regular discussion, consultation and decision-making.”

Maj-Gen Tun Tun Nyi said decisions on security issues must be made using a top-down approach in consultation with all stakeholders regarding security issues, the peace process and constitutional reforms.

“We have to work for the interests of the whole country and not for the interests of particular organizations and individuals,” said Maj-Gen Tun Tun Nyi.

On Sept. 21, military-appointed lawmakers proposed an amendment to the 2008 Constitution to expand the authority of the NDSC and grant the president the power to dissolve the Parliament with the approval of the NDSC. The military controls a majority of the 11 seats on the NDSC but the power to make final decisions belongs to the president, who is also a member of the council.

Though the NLD government has never held an NDSC meeting, it has formed the Security, Tranquility and Rule of Law Committee, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs, all of whom are members of the military, sit on the committee. The committee meets weekly at the President’s Office in Naypyitaw and handles national security issues.

In the aftermath of serious crises such as fighting and ethnic cleansing in Rakhine, the NLD government also held what it called “special meetings on defense and security,” once in 2016 and once 2018, also at the President’s Office in Naypyitaw.

NLD Central Information Unit Secretary Monywa Aung Shin told The Irrawaddy that the country’s leaders may differ in how they view a situation: military leaders may think it is necessary to hold an NDSC meeting but civilian leaders may not think so.

“If the military wants to summon a meeting of the NDSC, they should negotiate with the civilian government. Holding press conferences and releasing statements will not work,” said Monywa Aung Shin.

Dr. Min Zaw Oo, director of the think tank Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, said, “It is a political problem. NDSC meetings are not being held because of political problems between the government and the military.”

He also suggested that the government may not want to hold regular meetings on security matters.

During the U Thein Sein administration, from 2011 to 2016, the NDSC met every two weeks. Even when the president was traveling, they still met at least once a month, according to a former official from the U Thein Sein government who asked to remain anonymous.

“Members exchanged their views and then the president made the final decisions. Meetings were held immediately in response to natural disasters, boat people and international pressures,” the official said, referring to Rohingya people who flee by boat from Rakhine State and Bangladesh. “It is always better to make decisions together than as a single person,” the official said.

Yangon-based journalist Thiha Thwe suggested that the government may not have held an NDSC meeting because State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to assume her role as foreign minister for an NDSC meeting, as she would have less power than in her role as State Counselor.

“I think it is the only reason [the government doesn’t want to convene an NDSC meeting]. The parliamentary speakers, the president and the vice president are appointed by her. I am sure they can have no influence on her, but according to the structure of the NDSC, she doesn’t hold the decision-making position,” said Thiha Thwe.

The constitutional amendment proposed by military lawmakers would require NDSC meetings once every two months, and require meetings in cases of emergencies or when requested by five NDSC members. The NDSC was established in March 2011 and is the highest authority for security and defense issues in Myanmar.

The military controls six seats on the NDSC, as the council includes the commander-in-chief, the deputy commander-in-chief, the military-appointed ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs, and the country’s two vice presidents (one of whom is military-appointed). The NDSC also includes the president, the minister of foreign affairs and the speakers for both the upper and lower houses of the Union Parliament.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.