Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Mouthpiece Contradicts Min Aung Hlaing’s Poll Claim; Regime Boss Steel Dreaming; and More

By The Irrawaddy 28 January 2023

Junta boss and his megaphone differ on election 

Myanmar military spokeperson Zaw Min Tun speaks during a press briefing at the Defense Service Museum in Naypyitaw on Jan. 26, 2021. / AFP

A day after junta boss Min Aung Hlaing assured a governing State Administration Council meeting on Monday that an election would be staged this year, junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told VOA that the regime is trying to hold an election in 2023 but is not sure if it can do so, due to “subversive activities.”

The regime’s National Defense and Security Council is required by the military-drafted 2008 Constitution to hold an election within six months of the expiry of emergency rule, which comes at the end of this month.

Zaw Min Tun is not wrong in his judgment. The regime is certain to push ahead with plans for an election, which it views as the only way out of the current political crisis. But it seems unaware of the fact that the resistance movement and public support for its actions will not stop because of a rigged poll.

On the international front, the regime is facing increasing diplomatic isolation, and many countries have called the proposed poll a sham. On the domestic front, powerful ethnic armed organizations have rejected the election, and the resistance movement is growing in terms of weaponry and operational areas despite the junta’s air superiority.

Steel mill project highlights Min Aung Hlaing’s inability 

Coup Leader Min Aung Hlaing inspects Russia-backed No. 2 Steel Mill in Taunggyi Township, Shan State, in October 2021.

A few months after his putsch in 2021, junta boss Min Aung Hlaing crowed that he would restore operations at the Russia-backed No. 2 Steel Mill in Shan State. But with just over a week to go until his regime’s emergency rule expires at the end of this month, the mill is still far from operational.

The steelmaking project was suspended by the Union Parliament under the now ousted National League for Democracy government in 2017.

Min Aung Hlaing has often complained that the NLD-dominated Union Parliament’s decision to suspend the project when it was 98.86 percent complete was irrational and caused huge losses for the country.

But the general has not managed to complete the remaining 1.14 percent during his two years of rule, despite support from the regime’s major arms supplier, Russia. Locals oppose the project due to its environmental impacts.

The steel mill is a joint venture between Russian-backed Tyazhpromexport and the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation.

Slap in the face for junta’s PR push

A screenshot of the Guardian editorial headlined ‘Myanmar’s military: in power but not in control’.

Last month, The Guardian published an editorial and an op-ed critical of the military regime. The junta was, unsurprisingly, not happy about the articles. But its pain must have doubled when the Guardian rejected an attempt by the regime’s foreign ministry to dismiss the hard truths published in print.

Authored by British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, the op-ed warned the regime of further sanctions from the UK. This triggered a swift response from the Myanmar Embassy in London, which sent a “Letter to the Editor”. But the Guardian refused to publish it.

The junta’s foreign ministry was forced to post the missive on its Facebook page, where it has long banned comments for fear being bombarded by netizens’ insults.

The Facebook post defended the coup as a constitutionally sanctioned power seizure and insisted that the State Administration Council (junta) is the only legitimate government of Myanmar.

This justification, repeated at regular intervals since the February 2021 coup, contradicts the reality of a country stolen by the military from its people after they re-elected the National League for Democracy at the 2020 election.

The regime forced most of the country’s independent media outlets into exile following the coup, while its own mouthpieces continue to spread propaganda at home. However, it is obviously losing the media war.

Facebook, which is almost synonymous with the internet in Myanmar, banned the military from its platforms following the coup. And no credible international media outlet is speaking positively about the regime.

Furious over the Guardian articles, the junta’s foreign ministry pointed the finger at Britain, accusing it of “leaving Myanmar in tatters when it gave independence to the country in 1948.”

Yet another failed propaganda attempt 

A scene from downtown Yangon after the coup. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

In another propaganda failure, the junta’s English-language Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper became a laughingstock on Thursday when it used a 2013 photo to illustrate its report claiming Myanmar saw a 78 percent rise in foreign tourist arrivals in 2022.

The report was intended to deceive readers into thinking that holidaymakers from Western countries are visiting the country as usual under military rule. However, if there was really a near 80 percent increase in tourists, it should not have been difficult to take photos of them in the commercial capital Yangon, given they wouldn’t be able to venture far into the country without running into fierce clashes between the military and resistance forces.

The reality is that Western countries including the US and UK have warned their citizens against traveling to Myanmar, and the tourism scene remains as bleak as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So the regime was forced to use an old photo to back its bogus claim. This practice is hardly unusual for military regimes. Previous juntas in Myanmar employed the same trick, using their media mouthpieces to broadcast messages that “all is well and we are making progress.”