International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Weekly Highlights: Myanmar Government Must Hold Itself Accountable to Campaign Promises

    

Myanmar Government Must Hold Itself Accountable to Campaign Promises

Military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, left, and Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, right. Photo credit: / The Irrawaddy

 

 

 

Double standards continue to be at play in the grievances between the Myanmar[1] Army and the National League for Democracy (NLD) led-Government as recent comments by Yangon Chief Minister, U Phyo Min Thein, sent the military into a frenzy when he asserted that "there are no civil-military relations in the democratic era" and for equating the military commander-in-chief's position to be same as a director- general. The statements suggesting that the Myanmar Army be placed under civilian rule reinforce undertones of sensitivity as relations between the Army and the Government remain at a standstill, while the country's governance is fueled by competing agendas.

 

Calling U Phyo Min Thein's remarks "reckless and confrontational," the Myanmar Army filed a complaint with the Government urging them to take action against him. U Phyo Min Thein's comments expose an ongoing, toxic narrative where the military presents itself as a victim against any rhetoric that stands to question its hold on power and the lengths that it is willing to go to preserve its status as the most powerful institution in the country. It also reveals the military's commitment to challenging anyone who threatens their legitimacy, despite being up against a backdrop of defamation related charges that reinforce the truth behind U Phyo Min Thein's claims.

 

A former political prisoner himself and MP for the NLD since 2012, U Phyo Min Thein was promoted to the Chief Minister post in 2015 by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi following her party's historic 2015 election victory. Perhaps what is most disappointing is that it was the Government who heeded the call of the military and issued U Phyo Min Thein a warning against the contentious comments through an internal memo, prompting him to send a letter of apology. The Government spokesperson, U Zaw Htay said the comments "caused misunderstandings between the Government and military. As the chief minister is responsible for what he said, we have instructed him to do what he needs to do."

 

Overall, the reactions by the military and the Government to U Phyo Min Thein's statements speak volumes about the entrenched power enjoyed by the military and the consequences for those who dare to challenge it. According to the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, the Myanmar Army controls three key ministries of Defense, Home Affairs (MoHA), and Border Affairs. Additionally, the military enjoys a de facto veto over amending the Constitution which requires over 75% of support from parliament, yet 25% of seats are reserved for the military, including subnational, regional and state parliaments.

 

Due to the entrenched power that the military has enjoyed under the 2008 Constitution, the NLD seems hesitant, if not reluctant, to rock the boat, in any attempt to dismantle military control. The contrast between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's adamant claims for constitutional reform during her 2015 election campaign and the silence on this issue today is striking. Defenders of U Phyo Min Thein's comments question the logic behind electing someone who cannot voice their opinion. As Mr. Moe Thway, Chairperson of Generation Wave stated, "An elected Chief Minister should have a right to speak, otherwise, why should we elect them?" While national reconciliation remains at the forefront of the NLD agenda, the NLD representatives appear reluctant to confront the military and its unwavering control of operations. Thus, this unwillingness has resulted in a lack of meaningful moves towards achieving substantive reforms or genuine national reconciliation, as well as accountability for the decades of human rights abuses committed by the military. 

 

Challenging the military has not been part of the NLD's discourse so far and as such the Myanmar Army continues to enjoy the political and economic benefits of power. Confrontations between the Myanmar Army and the Government have generally been approached with restraint - a tactic that some speculate has contributed to an 'overly cautious' style of governance that protects the military's interests. Soe Myint Aung, an analyst with the Yangon-based Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, stated, "For the military, their position is to remain in the leading role or the driver's seat as long as possible, so long as they are not sure about their own position or if they are not sure about civilian politicians." While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Government continue to make excuses for the military's actions, allegations of state-sanctioned crimes against humanity continue.

 

The Myanmar Army's non-compliance with the NLD Government is nothing new, yet one that maintains a worrisome trend amidst the silence of a newly elected democratic government that had previously spoken out against the regime's hypocritical rhetoric. The Government has an obligation to put pressure on the military for the benefit of a true transition to democracy. In times where its representatives, or public, speak to morals to dismount the military power, the Government should stand by them, and support international and local calls to end military impunity and to curb human rights abuses. Ultimately, the 2008 Constitution must be amended to meet the criteria of a truly democratic country. This entails stripping the military of its disproportionate power and placing the institution under civilian rule. As the State Counsellor's 2015 election campaign message said, "it is time for real change in the political and administrative structure." Now is time for the State Counsellor and her Government to be accountable to their campaign promises and take a side with the truth.

 


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.

 

 

 

 

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About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


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As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,
"Justice is a dream. But it is a dream we are determined to realize."