On this day in 2021, Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said the Constitution should be revoked if its laws were not being followed—a statement that fueled public concerns about a military coup amid heightened tensions between the military and the National League for Democracy (NLD) over the result of the 2020 general election.
Calling the Constitution the “mother of the law,” Min Aung Hlaing stressed the need to comply with the charter in a video address to senior officer trainees at the National Defense College.
“If one does not follow the law, such a law must be revoked. I mean if it is the Constitution, it is necessary to revoke the Constitution. If one does not follow the law, the Constitution must be revoked,” he told the officers.
He cited the invalidation of Myanmar’s previous two constitutions, promulgated in 1947 and 1974 under military juntas following coups d’etat. Many viewed his statement, which followed his earlier allegation that the Nov. 8, 2020 general election was fraudulent and marred by vote rigging, as a hint that the military would resort to a coup.
His statement followed military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun’s refusal, during a press conference on Jan. 26, to rule out the possibility of a coup. It also coincided with a series of pro-junta rallies and protests targeting the Union Election Commission (UEC) across the country organized by the vice-chair of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party, U Khin Yi (who now serves as the regime’s immigration minister), and former Lieutenant General Wai Lwin, who served as the defense minister under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.
On Jan. 28, the UEC responded that concerned parties could file complaints in line with the law and seek rulings from the Constitutional Tribunal. No individual or organization could change election results in violation of the law, and the wishes of the voters could not be compromised, the UEC said, further exacerbating the tensions between the military and the NLD government.
However, on Jan. 30, Myanmar’s military said the commander-in-chief’s statement had been misinterpreted and the armed forces would protect and abide by the Constitution and act according to the law, allaying coup fears for the time being.
But just three days later on Feb. 1, two generals arrived at the residence of President U Win Myint at around 5 a.m. and asked him to step down on health grounds. He refused and said he would rather die than resign, the ousted president told a junta court some eight months later.
U Win Myint was detained along with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders on Feb. 1 last year as the military seized power from the NLD government in a coup. Despite the takeover, however, Min Aung Hlaing did not scrap the 2008 Constitution, which was designed to ensure the military’s grip on power in perpetuity.
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