Harshita Panwar

Harshita Panwar works for Security Risks Asia which is an independent venture in New Delhi.

Intensifying Conflict in Myanmar

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The violent rebellion by multiple local forces known as the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) supported by select Ethnic Armed Organisation (EAO) has drawn much attention in Myanmar. The response of the Myanmar Armed Forces or Tatmadaw has been brutal which has led to a very strong backlash from the regional and international community, particularly the ASEAN grouping.

Towards this end the State Administrative Council (SAC) or the cloak of the Tatmadaw post the military coup is trying to come up with an act of political balancing. Given the state of violence and the need for extending legitimacy, the military-led “government,” announced an extension of a state of emergency for another six months until Feb. 1, 2023, with a plan of holding elections.

Head of the SAC and Chief of Tatmadaw, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the military’s role in politics was necessary for sake of peace and stability in an explanation in front of a meeting of military personnel in July. This statement denotes that the military will continue to have a large political role while the aim of the SAC will be to undermine the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung Suu Kyi who have emerged as the most popular forces in the country. Towards this end, a very systematic campaign has been launched to target NLD leaders, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi and disqualify her. Here is a short review of these developments.

Justifying State Administrative Council Sustenance

To justify the military coup on February 01, last year, the SAC chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is planning to hold a general election next year, after cancelling the results of the 2020 poll which the NLD won in a landslide. NLD is likely to be excluded from the 2023 election, should it happen as planned. 

The reorganised Union Election Commission (UEC) is now preparing for polls in August 2023 an activity which is focused on ensuring that military-supported parties are elected to power. Newly appointed UEC chairman U Thein Soe who will oversee the upcoming poll is a former Myanmar military general.

A proportional representation (PR) system is being planned, though the Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that it does not comply with the 2008 Constitution. Min Aung Hlaing is looking at imposing the PR system for the next election as he believes that in a First Past the Post (FPTP) system the NLD won landslide victories. Min Aung Hlaing hopes that this will assist the military’s proxy political force the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

USDP is already preparing for elections and has held a central executive committee meeting at its headquarters in the capital Naypyitaw and a party conference when a new party leadership will be elected for the next five years. With Min Aung Hlaing eyeing the presidency, a position he has long coveted, USDP leaders might also be looking at the prospects of being appointed to other top political positions such as the vice-presidency, parliamentary speaker, and Union ministers. Keeping the NLD out of elections appears to be the main strategy and the way this is being done is covered in the next section.

Keeping NLD out of Elections and Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s military government has been working to suppress dissent since its inception. The NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the first target. As per a report in Myanmar Now, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded a five-year prison sentence on April 26 allegedly for receiving bribes of cash and gold from Yangon’s former chief minister.

This is the sixth charge which has brought her total sentence so far to 11 years. Later, in June, SAC confirmed the junta moved Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from detention at an unknown location to prison. She was reported to have been provided three female attendants, other details have not been released.

In a message from confinement, Aung San Suu Kyi urged the Myanmar public to discuss and overcome differences through a source close to the court during a hearing in Naypyitaw. Aung Suu Kyi has asked the people to stay united. She also denied electoral fraud charges at a closed trial inside Naypyitaw Prison. In the month of May, NLD issued a statement confirming that it has not assigned any representatives to meet with the junta or affiliated organisations. This may in turn assist the plans of the military to keep the NLD out of power. Following death threats and deadly attacks against them by a pro-regime vigilante group, members of NLD and their families have been forced into hiding or have fled the country for their safety.

Death Sentence

SAC executed two top political dissidents in July—Ko Jimmy, 52, a veteran of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, and Phyo Zayar Thaw, 41, a former National League for Democracy (NLD) MP—and two others, the first capital punishment carried out in decades ostensibly to send a strong message to other dissidents and rebels.

This invited heavy international reproof including by the United Nations. This may dissuade the military from more executions soon. To assuage the public sentiment within, Myanmar’s military government released more than 1,600 prisoners to mark the traditional new year holiday, but they didn’t include any political detainees in the month of April.

The Future

Plans of the military-led SAC to hold elections may become unstuck given the large-scale violence that is ongoing in the country. Moreover in case of non-participation of the NLD, in which case the USDP is likely to gain the maximum number of seats, legitimacy internal and external of the government in Nay Pyi Taw will be limited.  Perhaps knowing this recently, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has proposed holding talks with the NLD but only after the trials of Aung Suu Kyi are over. If this course is pursued seriously and Suu Kyi shows a willingness to talk with the junta-led SAC, there could be some compromise. But even Suu Kyi is expected to have limitations in capping the violent resistance that has emerged in the wake of the military coup last February. Thus, the political trajectory in Myanmar spells instability soon.