How Military Electoral Interference Led to Coup in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 8 November 2021

On November 8 last year Myanmar held a general election in which more than 27 million people voted.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming majority but the military seized power during the Feb. 1 coup, the day the newly elected Parliament was set to convene.

The military let out several barks before it finally bit.

There is nothing I won’t dare do
August 14, 2020

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (center) and U Than Htay (left), chairman of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, meet the leaders of 34 political parties on August 14 in Naypyitaw. / Min Aung Hlaing’s website.

 Around two months before the November election, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met 34 political parties in Naypyitaw at the request of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

At the meeting, National Progressive Party chairman and former military officer Nay Zin Latt asked how Min Aung Hlaing would intervene if the 2020 election turned out not to be free and fair.

The National Democratic Force chairman, U Khin Maung Swe, who is now on the regime’s State Administration Council (SAC) governing body, called for the replacement of the Union Election Commission (UEC) and its chairman U Hla Thein.

The New National Democracy Party chairman, U Thein Nyunt, who is also on the SAC, called for a National Defense and Security Council meeting to discuss Rakhine State where Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army were fighting.

In response, Min Aung Hlaing said: “There is nothing I won’t dare do. I am just concerned that it could have a negative impact on the country, the people and the future of the Tatmadaw [military].”

He promised to ensure a level-playing field for political parties and that the election would be free and fair.

Military criteria to pick candidate
August 15, 2020

The military-run newspaper Myawady Daily started publishing criteria on which readers should choose candidates.

The criteria were being published each day until the UEC complained. The mouthpiece newspaper said suitable candidates must uphold the “three main national causes”: the military’s political ideology of non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty, over which the Tatmadaw believes it has responsibility. It also said candidates must not be influenced by external agencies and foreigners.

Pre-vote attack
November 2, 2020

Six days before the election, Min Aung Hlaing’s office issued a statement about voting, overstepping its authority by asserting that the UEC was mishandling preparations.

It cast doubt on the ability of the UEC, formed by the government, to hold a free and fair election.

“Weakness and deficiencies which were never seen in previous elections are appearing now. They can have adverse impacts on the election,” the statement said, warning that the government must take responsibility for any mistakes committed by the commission, saying the government was legally responsible for the commission’s actions.

Controversial interview
November 3, 2020

Four days before the election, Min Aung Hlaing told the Popular News Journal that the military was carefully watching the electoral process and had to warn the UEC because it had made too many mistakes. He claimed he had a responsibility to point out what was happening in the country.

The same day State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi posted on the Chair NLD Facebook page that people should not get incited and entrapped.

The most important thing was that the election was held successfully and the wishes of the people were reflected and that people understood there were attempts to disrupt the election, she posted.

The following day, the President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said the military statements were based on groundless allegations by some political parties and individuals. It was unhelpful to efforts to hold a free and fair election while instigating concerns and instability.

Military threatens president
November 5, 2020

President U Win Myint unveils an equestrian statue of General Aung San in Naypyitaw. / The Irrawaddy.

 The military rejected the President’s Office’s comments in a lengthy response saying the government was ignoring its responsibility for the actions of the UEC.

It said government officials took oaths under the Constitution to carry out duties.

“It should be noted that the Constitution [provides for] the impeachment of the president and vice presidents if they are disqualified or deemed not to be performing their responsibilities,” it added.

The military also attempted to justify its political role by saying its involvement was constitutional. The military-drafted 2008 Constitution labels the armed forces as its guardian.

I must accept election result’
November 8, 2021

Min Aung Hlaing cast his ballots in Zabuthiri Township on Sunday. / The Irrawaddy.

 “I must accept an election result that reflects the people’s will,” Min Aung Hlaing told reporters on election day, after casting his ballots in Zeyathiri, Naypyitaw, where USDP chairman U Than Htay was standing.

“It is irrefutable and must be accepted.” He added that he voted for the party that could work with the military, uphold the three main national causes and respect ethnic identity and religion.

UEC announces NLD victory
November 17, 2020

The UEC announced that the NLD won 920 seats or 82 percent out of the 1,117 contested constituencies in the November election while the military-backed USDP only won 71 seats.

Military announces electoral review
November 30, 2020

Military personnel and their families queue to vote at a polling station outside their bases in Mandalay. The Irrawaddy

 The military announced its plans to scrutinize and review the electoral process in 218 townships where military personnel and their families voted to determine whether the election was legal.

The UEC, however, rejected the military’s call as “unlawful” to instruct its sub-commissions to provide copies of election documents for the military’s election review.

Unfair and dishonest
January 8, 2021

Min Aung Hlaing made fraud claims about the general election, alleging vote-rigging and supporting the USDP’s claims of mass electoral fraud.

“In conducting an assessment after the election, unfair and dishonest practices were found,” he told the Command and General Staff College in Kalaw via video conferencing.

Call for special session
January 11, 2021

Military appointees in Parliament. / The Irrawaddy

 The military appointees in parliament and USDP MPs attempted to take their claims to Parliament.

A total of 203 lawmakers, including 160 unelected military appointees, 36 USDP members, four Arakan National Party members, two independents and one National United Democratic Party member, submitted a proposal calling speaker T Khun Myat to convene a special session on electoral fraud claims before the new parliament sits on Feb. 1.

The speaker rejected the proposal on Jan. 12, saying the attempts were “irrelevant”. He said election disputes are not resolved in Parliament as the Constitution grants the UEC the final decision.

He added that alleged malpractices will be resolved by the UEC and the process was still taking place.

Military targets UEC
January 20, 2021

More than a month after the election results were released, the military continued to make fraud claims, asking the government to take responsibility for the UEC’s alleged faults.

Military threatens action
Jan. 26, 2021

Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun at a press conference in Naypyitaw on January 26. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

 Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun warned it may take action, five days before the newly elected Parliament convened, and declined to rule out a coup if its demands were not met.

Min Aung Hlaing threatens Constitution
Jan. 27, 2021

Min Aung Hlaing speaks to instructors and trainees from the Command and General Staff College in Kalaw via video conferencing. / Min Aung Hlaing’s website

 Min Aung Hlaing met staff and trainees at the National Defence College via video conferencing. He said the Constitution is the mother law and it must be scrapped if it is not followed. This raised concerns over a possible coup as a constitution is automatically scrapped by a coup.

The following day, the UEC invited electoral complaints but said no individual or institution can bend the law to alter the election results. Interference violates the Constitution, electoral and parliamentary laws and is against the wishes of the voters, it said

Coup d’état
February 1, 2021

Soldiers and armored personnel carriers are deployed in Naypyitaw on February 2, one day after the coup. / The Irrawaddy

 The military seized power in a coup, claiming electoral fraud. It detained Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Win Myint and other government and NLD leaders and abolished the UEC.

It later said it would reconstitute the UEC and hold a new election.

A former major general, Thein Soe, who oversaw the 2010 general election and drew criticisms over early voting at the time, was appointed to chair the new election commission.

Military–appointed Union Election Commission chief U Thein Soe.

U Thein Soe later told various political parties his new commission found evidence the NLD cheated to ensure its landslide victory.

“The party must be abolished. And we must consider taking action against those who rigged the vote as traitors to the country,” he said.

Junta annuls results
July 26, 2021

Anti-regime protesters in Yangon hold placards countering the regime’s election fraud claims and
calling for Suu Kyi’s freedom on Feb 14. / The Irrawaddy

The military-appointed UEC officially revoked the election results, claiming the poll was “not free and fair” and “not in compliance” with the Constitution and the law.

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