Myanmar Military Chief Defends Political Power

By Htet Naing Zaw 2 December 2019

Naypyitaw – Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has stressed the need for a government to have political, economic, administrative and defense insights combined with a global vision.

He said the Tatmadaw’s (military’s) participation in politics maintained stability.

The senior general gave a speech to staff from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief and National Defense College on Nov. 30. It came amid mounting domestic and international speculation that the army boss is eyeing the presidency.

Former parliamentarian U Ye Htun said he believed Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing wanted to become president in the future.

“He may be talking out of frustration. I sometimes feel the same,” he said, adding that President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) had failed to use political, economic, administrative and defense insights, and were unable to see the broader picture.

It was important for a government to consider issues from all perspectives to implement the right policies, he said.

“If the Tatmadaw was really under the control of the civilian government, I don’t think he would dare to say these things,” U Ye Htun told The Irrawaddy.

However, military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said what the senior general said was just a routine speech, as those points had been made in his messages on Armed Forces Day.

“At the National Defense College, the commander-in-chief of defense services makes similar points once or twice a year,” said the military spokesman.

The military chief defended the Tatmadaw’s role in politics, saying its leadership role ensured stability and safeguarded vital national causes.

He said the administration should focus on politics and serve the national interests rather than those of a particular party.

Parties only vie for power and fail to work in harmony for the national interest. But parties should cooperate to achieve better outcomes, said the senior general.

He stressed the need to ensure fair elections, suggesting the Tatmadaw would abide by the result of the general election in 2020.

Political insight was the most important of the four factors mentioned, said political analyst Dr. Yan Myo Thein. “Unless political problems are solved through dialogue, it will be difficult to find answers in administration and the economy,” he said.

“Therefore, there is a need for ethnic, military and civil leaders to discuss political problems and find answers. There is a need to reform the administration, defense and economy in harmony [with political reforms],” he added.

There were private talks between the military chief and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after her party came to power in 2016. But the talks proved to be unsuccessful. The two have not met since mid-2018.

Military opposition to the NLD’s efforts to amend the Constitution indicates that there are strains in the military-civil relationship. Recently, The Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar for alleged genocide against the Rohingya. The international community believes it may have happened during the military’s clearance operations following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s attacks on security outposts in northern Rakhine State in 2017.

Two military officers will join Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal defense team at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to contest the genocide charges.

The military operations in Rakhine State in September 2017 caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to refugee repatriation but only a few refugees have voluntarily returned to Myanmar.

The Rohingya are demanding citizenship but Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya ethnicity and said the citizenship applications would be considered under the 1982 Citizenship Law. Many Myanmar citizens regard the Rohingya as “Bengali”, or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The military chief said the British brought large numbers of cheap laborers from Bangladesh into Myanmar during the colonial period.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that after independence in 1948 neither Rohingya nor Bengali was listed as an ethnic group in Myanmar. When Myanmar repatriated them in 1974-75, the media referred to them as Bengali and not Rohingya, he added.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing stressed the need to consider the history behind the conflict in Rakhine State and the need to recognize various issues, including immigration.