NAYPYITAW—The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has defended the military’s involvement in the country’s national legislature, saying it is necessary to keep the country from breaking up, and to protect national sovereignty and unity.
Asked by The Irrawaddy whether the USDP supported amending the 2008 Constitution to limit the role of the military (or Tatmadaw) in politics, the party’s senior leader, ex-general U Thaung Aye, parroted the slogan created by the former military regime: “Our Three Main National Causes—non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity and perpetuation of sovereignty.”
“Do the 25 percent [of seats guaranteed by the Constitution to military-appointed lawmakers] in Parliament act against the interest of any particular citizen or individual? This percentage [of the parliaments formed in] in 2010 and 2015 served the non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity and perpetuation of sovereignty,” said U Thaung Aye, who is also a lawmaker in the Lower House, at a party press conference on Monday.
He went on to repeat the military’s oft-cited justification for seizing power at various times in the country’s history. “Since independence, the country has almost fallen into the abyss time and again due to the haphazard management of politicians. To put it simply, the Tatmadaw has had to take care of [the problem] whenever that happened. This is the history of the Tatmadaw that can’t be erased,” he said.
Mandalay-based lawyer U Thein Than Oo acknowledged that the Tatmadaw saved the country many times during periods of civil war from 1948 to 1962. However, he said, Myanmar had become one of the world’s poorest countries by 1988 in the years following General Ne Win’s unconstitutional seizure of power in 1962.
“The country has collapsed in all aspects including politics, the economy, socially and the education system. It was not done by politicians. It was done by the military led by Gen. Ne Win,” he said.
“The military seized power [again] in 1988, despite the public uprising, and retained it until 2011. [Former] President U Thein Sein is also from the military. Politicians got the country back only after the 2015 election,” he added.
The Tatmadaw’s image has been marred by self-seeking, power-mad military leaders, U Thein Than Oo said. He called on the military to withdraw from politics if it desires to build a genuine democracy and a genuine Union.
“The public has been robbed of 25 percent of its will,” he said, referring to the 25 percent of seats in Parliament reserved for the military.
The Tatmadaw does not seem to be retreating from politics, said U Aung Thu Nyein, a director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy.
“It seems that there is still a need for lengthy negotiations between political and military leaders,” he said.
At a press conference given by the Tatmadaw in Yangon on Saturday, some generals said the Tatmadaw would remain in politics as long as there are ethnic armed groups in the country.
USDP spokesperson Dr. Nanda Hla Myint denied allegations that the party is the military’s proxy.
U Thaung Aye said it was necessary for the Tatmadaw to take 25 percent of the seats in Parliament because the country was still affected by rampant personality cults, partisanship and ideological disputes.
“There will be no need to demand [the military’s retreat from politics] when there are politicians, political parties, individuals and organizations that really care about the interests of the people. The proportion [of military-appointed lawmakers] will decline automatically,” he said.
The NLD-led government criticizes the Tatmadaw, but many of the top managers in the current government are retired generals, Dr. Nanda Hla Myint said.
“Aren’t those assuming the top management positions in the organization that criticizes the Tatmadaw about this and that themselves from the Tatmadaw? Aren’t they retired military officials? It is a dirty political trick to mar the image of the Tatmadaw that way. As long as there are such people, the country can’t develop, can’t achieve unity and peace,” he said.
The parliamentary committee to draft amendments to the 2008 Constitution, whose formation was approved by a majority vote in the Union Parliament last week, is due to start its discussions soon.
Meanwhile, the USDP has also submitted a single proposed amendment to Section 261 of the Constitution. If it is approved, regional legislatures will be able to elect their own chief ministers. The ministers are currently appointed directly by the President.