Political, Religious Figures Urge Myanmar Govt, Military Leaders to Talk as Tensions Rise

By Nyein Nyein 28 January 2021

Prominent political and religious figures in Myanmar have urged government and military leaders to engage in a dialogue in order to calm a sudden escalation in tensions over statements from the military that have been interpreted as a threat to stage a coup if its claims of electoral fraud go unaddressed.

The latest round of tensions between the armed forces and the government dates back to the run-up to November’s general election, when the military complained about the government-appointed electoral body, the Union Election Commission (UEC), accusing it of poor management of the preparation for the polls and casting doubt over whether the voting would be free and fair.

After the NLD won a landslide electoral victory, the military launched a probe into the voting process after its proxy, the main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), blamed its heavy electoral defeat on voter fraud. The military and the USDP complained that their calls for an investigation into the election and the UEC had fallen on deaf ears.

Since then the military has published a series of findings that it says provide evidence to back up its fraud claims, but the accusations have been rejected by the election commissioners as “exaggerated” and “absurd”. The military said that as of early this week it had found nearly 8.6 million voter-list irregularities. The government and the UEC have been tight-lipped on the complaints.

The tensions escalated alarmingly at a military press conference on Tuesday when the armed forces’ spokesperson, Major General Zaw Min Tun, refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup if the Tatmadaw’s demand for an investigation into alleged electoral fraud was not met.

The spokesperson’s denial raised concerns over whether the armed forces were gearing up for another coup—Myanmar has experienced three military takeovers in the past—which could run the risk of throwing Myanmar into social, economic and political disarray for years to come, and once again isolate the country internationally.

Daw Htoot May, Rakhine ethnic affairs minister-elect for Yangon Regionsaid the military’s refusal to rule out a coup was the outcome of the UEC’s silence on the issue.

“To my understanding, the military is applying pressure because the UEC has been silent despite the parties’ complaints over the election results,” she said.

The military’s spokesperson even said on Tuesday that the government’s deafening silence on the fraud complaints created problems for the military. “We don’t want to be regarded as the villains in the history, therefore the Tatmadaw shares our findings,” he said.

Some believe an official meeting between the country’s top civilian and military leaders—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing—on the issue could provide a way to resolve the tension.

Al Haj U Aye Lwin, the chief convener of the Islamic Centre of Myanmar, said flexibility could help things moving forward.

“If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets with the senior general and says she takes his concerns seriously and lets him know how the government has been thoroughly following the issue, things would improve,” he said.

Some political parties, including the USDP, currently have electoral complaints pending before the UEC. Under the law, an electoral tribunal will hold hearings on them.

U Aye Lwin suggested the military should wait for the UEC’s final decision on the complaints.

“Only when they find out if there are irregularities and fraud, should they challenge it,” he added.

Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, the president of the Kachin Baptist Convention, recalled that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing repeatedly complained of electoral fraud during their meeting in December last year.

“Now it seems that he has laid out his plan,” he said, referring to the perceived threat of a military takeover. He urged the military not to think about a coup, as it would take Myanmar backward.

The military spokesperson’s comments made the reverend wonder if the leadership of Myanmar really wanted peace.

“If they want it, they all have to negotiate. All we can do is wait nervously for the result,” he said.

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