The army was also unhappy with the NLD Government for agreeing to take back Rohingya Muslim refugees in phases after a dialogue with the Chinese mediation. It is absolutely averse to the idea of a possible resumption of the repatriation process.
When an all-powerful military desires to hold onto power in a democratic country by overturning the massive poll verdict going in favour of a dominant political party, it is very likely that it will arrest the head of the party chief and others. And, that is what has exactly happened recently in Myanmar when its powerful military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has declared a yearlong state of emergency, taken control of the country in a coup nullifying the landslide victory notched up by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the international icon Aung San Suu Kyi in the last November general election, a verdict much larger than that of the 2015 polls, and handed over the state power to commander-in-chief of Defence Services Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Preceding to taking control, she was put under house arrest and former president U Win Myint as also other senior NLD leaders were imprisoned. The NLD party had been back to power, this time winning an overwhelming 396 out of 476 seats in the Parliament. The poll had registered a record 84% of the votes in favour of the NLD. Significantly the move has revealed the vulnerability of Myanmar’s fledgling democracy.
There was a news report doing the rounds in the past weeks that the army was toying with the idea of a takeover of the State power, but many received it with a pinch of salt despite the days of escalating tension between the NLD-led ruling establishment and the all-powerful military triggering what is called fear of a coup in the aftermath of the election which the army says was ‘fraudulent’. But finally, it had happened. The military was hoping that this move would address what it alleged was voter fraud. But it did not say if the irregularities were substantial enough to have influenced the election result. No wonder, its grievance was similar to that of the Opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the former ruling party formed by the military before it officially handed over power in 2011. But then, the international observers who monitored the elections had an altogether different story to tell. In fact, they had rather certified it as ‘fair’. Yet, the state army was disillusioned with the Election Commission’s response to its complaints.
The military is well aware that the November parliamentary election was free and fair and that a sizable section of the armed forces had also voted in support for Suu Kyi’s party. Even then it has declared a yearlong emergency and taken control of the country. Although it is difficult to conclude safely why the military had wanted to strike one day before the newly-elected parliament was expected to sit on February 1, yet going by the recent developments, there seems to be a plethora of reasons that must have influenced the army’s decision to rescind the massive electoral mandate that had gone in favour of Nobel Peace Prize winner and the State counsellor Kyi-led NLD party and go for a takeover.
It was reported that in December, there were signs of discontentment in the top military leadership over the alleged electoral fraud. There was an attempt in the parliament to discuss the tangled issue. But that did not happen. But prudence says the erstwhile Prime Minister Kyi ought to have met with the top military leaders for negotiations at that critical hour when it was evident that they were disgruntled and might have the election repealed in view of what they alleged was a massive voter fraud. But a plausible solution was elusive as both sides were intransigent in budging from their respective stands. The NLD’s triumph by far was massive with an overwhelming 396 of 476 seats. Even if she had agreed to the army’s demand for a fresh election, her party could still have formed a government of her own by giving it the onus of ensuring free and fair elections as the army heads the Home Ministry.
But then, the relations between the two sides have been sour for a pretty long time. So has reportedly been the relation between Kyi and Gen Hlaing also. Indeed, one fundamental reason for the former’s holding high card with regard to the demand for a recount might be that she was unsure if the army would agree to reach a consensus formula on this score as it had never really parted with full power to her party. To exemplify, even after the 2010 civilian handover, it retained the three key ministries of Home, Defence and Border Affairs because it favoured ‘limited democracy’ in Myanmar.
General Hliang is due to retire this year. He deeply desires to become the country’s next President post retirement in a tie-up with the army’s proxy party USDP. So he, according to a reliable source, was straining every nerve to win the NLD’s support to become the head of the State. But the plan badly fell through. The NLD seemed to have been unwavering in retaining the current incumbent President Win Myint until he made her way for presidency. As per the 2008 constitution, the military nominates 25% of the MPs in the legislature. But it feared that the civilian government under Kyi could make an attempt to amend the army-drafted constitution to decrease the number of the parliamentary seats reserved for it and take control over the three key ministries. Even if there was such an endeavour, it could hardly be a big surprise because Kyi’s ultimate aim was creating a national government with the ethnic parties, to become the next President of the country.
The army was also unhappy with the NLD Government for agreeing to take back Rohingya Muslim refugees in phases after a dialogue with the Chinese mediation. It is absolutely averse to the idea of a possible resumption of the repatriation process. But Suu Kyi and her party NLD seem to be willing to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old nagging ethnic insurgencies because they have sensed that without a settlement, a national government to make way for her becoming the future President of the ethnic strife-torn country will remain a far cry. China wants their repatriation so that it can push them along the Myanmar-India border to foment trouble in India. Since China has huge infrastructure projects in Myanmar, its relation is more cordial with Myanmar’s civilian government than India’s.
Indeed India won favour with the Myanmarese army by supplying it a submarine. As India’s relation at the military level is very cordial, the NE region should not face any problem even after recent coup. The coup triggered condemnation from all over the world, including the US. President Joe Biden on February 11 approved an order to sanction the Myanmar military leaders. Though Kyi’s standing was badly damaged globally ever since the brutal suppression of the Rohingya Muslims, she still remains hugely popular at home which is well echoed in the November polls.