Guest Column

Myanmar Junta’s ‘Election Plan’ Is Just a PSYOPS Operation That Will Fail

By Igor Blazevic 4 April 2023

(Explanatory note: PSYOPS—or psychological operations—tactics are those intended to manipulate one’s opponents or enemies, such as the dissemination of propaganda and fake news or the use of psychological warfare.)

Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s Plan A was to stage the coup, remove Daw Aung San Su Kyi and her National League for Democracy, consolidate control, and become president after new elections within two years of the coup. This plan has failed spectacularly.

What the junta is trying to achieve at this point in time is not even sham, fake elections. What they are doing is a “continuation of the war by other means”. The fake narrative about elections is an attention-diverting operation, it is a disinformation operation designed to confuse and buy time. The recent “dissolution” of the NLD, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and 38 other genuine parties is just part of that psychological warfare operation.

MAH is now following another, alternative plan, trying to muddle through a five-year cycle after which he believes the 2020 election result will no longer be significant, and only after that hold elections.

A lot of the junta’s talk about elections is just a time-buying strategy. They do not really mean to stage elections in the timeframe they are announcing. The State Administration Council (SAC—the junta’s name for itself) is using rhetoric about elections and the pretense of preparing one, to play a game in an effort to gain some legitimacy from countries like China, Thailand and India. The SAC is aware that it cannot organize even sham, staged elections any time soon.

It is almost certain that the SAC will not be able to have an election in 2023. Instead of elections, Min Aung Hlaing has now brought the census into the agenda and is trying to link it with voter lists. He is going to present the census as a new excuse and time-buying narrative to his own people and to Myanmar’s neighbors. His new promise will be that the junta will conduct a census in November 2024 and hold an election in November 2025.

By dithering and playing for time, Min Aung Hlaing and the SAC hope to:

1) buy enough time to wear down the resistance through a war of attrition;

2) buy enough time to deal with Thailand and China and others, to ensure diplomatic survival. China is actually putting pressure on the SAC to hold elections sooner; probably, the wish is to have it just as Indonesia transfers the ASEAN chair to Laos;

3) wait for the public to feel less emotional about the 2020 election result. People still feel very strongly about the 2020 election and they are not willing to participate in any elections now. The hope on the side of the junta is that by 2025 some people (mostly city dwellers) will say “Something’s better than nothing”;

4) make the argument (because constitutionally, the result of the 2020 election will expire in January 2026) that the 2020 election is no longer relevant, let’s try another one at the end of 2025; and

5) last but not least, buy time until their arch enemy Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be older and more frail, and therefore less of a danger even if she is released.

The military tried to stage a coup, and failed. It tried with terror and violence, and that failed as well. Min Aung Hlaing had a Plan A with elections after two years but the military itself has admitted that it failed. So the SAC is now testing what it can achieve with psychological warfare operations it calls “elections”, “postponed elections”, “collecting voter lists” and “conducting a census”. Always a new smoke bomb to divert attention and justify some new fake timeline.

The bottom line is, there will be no junta-staged elections: not in 2023, not in 2024, not in 2025.

Resistance to the junta is gradually getting stronger and stronger and Min Aung Hlaing has no chance to consolidate power in any way – neither through terror nor through offers of corrupt deals nor through fake elections.

There will be no elections simply because the people of Myanmar will reject them. The people will not participate. Resistance, both civic and armed, will disrupt it. And it is fully legitimate to disrupt such “elections”, because they are not “elections”, but a PSYOPS warfare operation.

When Ukrainians resolutely rejected and did what they could to disrupt Russian attempts to stage an illusory “referendum” approving the annexation of the Donbas region to Russia, nobody questioned the right of Ukrainians to do so.

Myanmar Spring Revolution activists, civil society and resistance just need to stay alert and active, and discredit, undermine and disrupt any attempt to even start preparing the scaffolding for what would be the electoral equivalent of a Potemkin village.

So the question “Will there will be some sort of junta-staged elections in 2023, or 2024 or maybe in 2025?” is the wrong question, one that cannot produce any answer that corresponds with reality.

The real question is: How long will Min Aung Hlaing and the SAC be allowed by Myanmar’s neighbors and ASEAN to continue to destroy the country and terrorize its population, before the Myanmar military implodes under the pressure from multiple resistance forces?

The only other question is how much more damage Min Aung Hlaing will do before he falls ignominiously into the dustbin of history as Myanmar’s worst ever dictator, the most murderous one, the greediest one—and the least successful.

Igor Blazevic is a senior adviser at the Prague Civil Society Centre. Between 2011 and 2016 he worked in Myanmar as the head lecturer of the Educational Initiatives Program.