On This Day

The Day Myanmar Military Chief Makes First Move for Coup

By The Irrawaddy 8 January 2022

On this day in 2021, Myanmar’s military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing alleged that the November 8, 2020 general election was fraudulent and marred by vote rigging, establishing a claim that he would use as the justification for a coup staged just over three weeks later.

“In conducting an assessment after the election, unfair and dishonest practices were found,” the future coup leader told the Command and General Staff College in Shan State’s Kalaw via video conferencing.

Not many people were aware then of the hidden meaning in what he said. But, looking back at the post-election period, there were already hints that Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was preparing for the February 1 coup, after his dream of becoming Myanmar’s president was shattered by the National League for Democracy Party’s overwhelming victory in the November general election.

In late November 2020, the military said it was reviewing the electoral process to determine whether the poll was conducted in accordance with the law. It said it was reviewing the balloting in 218 townships where military personnel and their families cast votes.

The announcement came just a few days after the military’s proxy political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), cried foul over the election result and complained that its calls for a probe of the poll and the Union Election Commission (UEC) had fallen on deaf ears.

A few days after Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s comments on alleged vote rigging, the military’s appointees in parliament joined with the USDP and a few small political parties to submit a proposal to parliament calling for a special session to be convened to address the electoral fraud claims.

The military then called on either the government, the UEC or outgoing parliamentarians to prove the November general election was free and fair so it could accept the results.

That was followed by a series of pro-military rallies in Yangon and southern Myanmar organized by the junta’s current immigration minister, U Khin Yi, and rallies in the capital Naypyitaw organized by General Wai Lwin, a former defense minister in U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration.

By the last week of January, a military spokesperson was refusing to rule out the possibility of a coup. In a press conference, the spokesperson warned that the armed forces could “take action” if its complaints about election fraud were not addressed.

Concerns about a possible military takeover were fueled a few days after that press briefing when Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said that the military-drafted 2008 Constitution should be revoked if its laws are not being followed. However, on January 30, Myanmar’s military said that the commander in chief’s statement was misinterpreted, and that the armed forces would protect and abide by the constitution and act according to the law, so allaying coup fears.

Despite that, the military seized power on February 1, the day the new parliament was scheduled to convene.

Three months after the coup, independent observers of the 2020 general election, such as the Asian Network for Free Elections, said that the outcome of the poll was “by and large, representative of the will of the people of Myanmar”.

In July, six months after the coup, the military regime annulled the results of the 2020 general elections, saying it was not free and fair because more than 11 million ballots were wrongly counted in the vote.

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