Thursday, February 25

Myanmar army chief’s rhetoric fuels fears of a coup

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Myanmar’s army chief has raised the prospect of scrapping the country’s constitution as fears swirl about a possible coup by the military over electoral fraud concerns.

The army has for weeks alleged widespread voter irregularities in November’s election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide.

The civilian administration has been in an uneasy power-sharing agreement with the army generals since Myanmar’s first democratic elections in 2015, as dictated by a 2008 junta-authored constitution.

An army spokesman on Tuesday refused to rule out the possibility of the military seizing total power to deal with what he called a political crisis.

And yesterday, General Min Aung Hlaing — arguably Myanmar’s most powerful individual — appeared to echo that sentiment in a speech published in the military-run Myawady newspaper.

The army chief said the 2008 constitution was “the mother law for all laws” and should be respected.

But he warned that in certain circumstances it could be “necessary to revoke the constitution”.

The comments follow repeated demands by the army for Myanmar’s election commission to release final voter lists from the November polls, a demand that has not been met.

The military says the lists are required to cross-check for irregularities. It alleges there were 8.6 million cases of voter fraud nationwide.

The election commission released a statement yesterday denying voter fraud, though it conceded that it has seen “weaknesses” in voter lists in previous elections.

“There cannot be a situation of voter fraud just because of weaknesses in flawed voter lists in this election,” it said.

Any complaints can be submitted and investigated by the commission, it added.

The newly elected MPs are expected to begin sitting in parliament on February 1.

The United Nations said it was watching the situation with “concern” and urged “all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation” and to respect the election results.

‘Not merely a bluff’

The polls were only the second democratic elections Myanmar has had since emerging in 2011 from a nearly five-decade military dictatorship.

Long a popular figure in Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s run for power in historic 2015 elections was curbed by several constitutional provisions.

One provision barred any citizen married to a foreigner from becoming president.

Suu Kyi, who married a British citizen, sidestepped that rule after the 2015 election win by becoming state counsellor — a de facto leadership role created by her government.

The NLD also then pushed for changes to the constitution in their first term, a process that has made little progress.

Political analyst Soe Myint Aung said the army saw “major loopholes (in the constitution) that has caused its detriment”.

“The coup rhetoric is not merely a bluff or empty threat,” he said.

Even if it does not orchestrate a “fully fledged” takeover of power, “it is likely the military will take some action unless the (election commission) and the government redress the election-related grievances.”

Suu Kyi has made no direct comment on the military’s polling complaints.

The last time the country saw its constitution revoked was in 1962 and 1988 — both when the military seized power and reinstated a junta government