Analysis

Myanmar Military Chief Makes Life Awkward for Chinese Foreign Minister

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 14 January 2021

It seems the Myanmar military doesn’t like to be idle. Having implemented an informal ceasefire with the country’s most active rebels in Rakhine State in November, the men in green found themselves with too much time on their hands. So they decided to move into uncharted territory, rechecking the voter lists for Myanmar’s general election, which was held two months ago. The final results of the polls showed conclusively that the military’s nemesis, the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, achieved a huge victory for the second time in a row, and the voting was declared “free and fair” by international observers, including the Carter Center.

Finding it hard to face this reality was the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development party, which won a mere 71 of the 1,117 constituencies contested. Rather than conceding defeat, they claimed the poll was marred by fraud and voter-list irregularities. The military joined in, questioning the credibility and performance of the country’s electoral body, the Union Election Commission (UEC), and taking it upon themselves to scrutinize the lists. Despite the UEC’s repeated denials of any wrongdoing, the military publicly claimed to have found more than 4 million irregularities as of early this week.

Then, on Tuesday, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing raised the issue at his meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi during a discussion that was supposed to be devoted to issues of bilateral interest, including capacity building for Myanmar’s armed forces. It must have been an awkward moment for Wang, who only the day before met with Myanmar President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and announced proudly that he was “the first foreign minister to visit Myanmar after the country’s general election,” and that his visit was “aimed at demonstrating China’s anticipation and support for the successful formation of Myanmar’s new government.”

The senior general compounded the torture for his honored guest by sharing the military’s “findings” in its examination of the voter lists, saying it had uncovered mistakes and inaccuracies that could have led to opportunities to vote “more than once” and “voting malpractice”. It is hard to know whether this all came as a revelation to—or simply mystified—the visiting minister from China, which has long been under the exclusive rule of the Chinese Communist Party and where general elections are unheard of.

The Myanmar military claimed it embarked on the task to ensure that the country’s democracy is not harmed. During Tuesday’s meeting, the senior general said the military would continue its effort in accordance with regulations and laws. It is not known how Wang responded to the claims. One hopes he was not overly embarrassed about being confronted with an issue he is not familiar with and about which it would be difficult for him to comment.

The military chief’s complaint about the alleged voter list errors to the Chinese minister turned out to be the joke of the day when the news circulated hours later. Myanmar netizens took to Facebook to ridicule the senior general for complaining to a foreigner from a country where voting is non-existent. Some braver souls went further, saying, “Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges,” echoing a line from the “People’s Desire” slogan from the military era in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the regime denounced Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party for enjoying support from the West. Now, the military chief himself appears to have fallen afoul of the junta’s one-time slogan. History repeats quite quickly in Myanmar.

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