Burma’s military chief defended the institution’s role in government and vowed to safeguard the country’s pro-military constitution Tuesday, ahead of elections in which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could win a seat in a parliament dominated by the military and its allies.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, speaking at an armed forces parade in the capital Naypyidaw, said the military is “performing the duty of national politics” by participating in parliament and must defend the constitution that protects this role.
"It is just to work for the interests of the nation, as required by the history of our country, that the military representatives are taking part in respective parliaments in accord with the new constitution," he said.
Calling to preserve the constitution, which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military, he said, "Our Tatmadaw [armed forces], together with the entire people, have not only to respect the constitution, which is the lifeblood of the state, but also to safeguard it.”
"Our Tatmadaw will safeguard the constitution as a major duty in building a modern, developed, new democratic nation,” he said.
His statement comes ahead of April 1 by-elections, in which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is widely expected to win one of 48 parliamentary seats at stake.
The Nobel laureate and pro-democracy icon has said reserving parliamentary seats for the military is undemocratic and that amending the constitution will be one of her party’s top priorities once in office.
Burma’s current constitution, written in 2008 by the then-ruling military junta, also allocates at least three cabinet posts to go to serving military personnel and allows for the president to grant full executive and judicial powers to the armed forces chief in a state of emergency.
The current parliament, which took office last March after historic 2010 elections that ended decades of brutal junta rule but were widely denounced as a sham, is dominated by military members and retired military officers.
In the upcoming by-elections, which are seen as a key test of the government’s commitment to recent reforms, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party is contesting 47 of the 48 seats vacated by lawmakers appointed to government posts.
Even if the NLD wins all the seats, the legislature will still be overwhelmingly dominated by the military and pro-military parties.
Armed Forces Day
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s speech marked Armed Forces Day, which commemorates Burma’s resistance against Japanese occupiers at the start of World War II and which opposition supporters remember as Anti-Fascist Revolution Day.
Over 10,000 military personnel attended the ceremony in Naypyidaw.
But opposition groups marked the day with commemoration of the Anti-Fascist Revolution Day and hopes for a more people-centered government after the upcoming elections.
“The Anti-Fascist Revolution was the movement in which Burma’s citizens, including all ethnic groups, removed the horrific system that was using unjust power to suppress people’s lives,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in a message to the NLD event for Anti-Fascist Revolution Day in Rangoon.
“The people are the only force that will make our country peaceful and prosperous,” she said.
Meanwhile, the 88 Generation Students Group, a pro-democracy organization founded by leaders of 1988 anti-government street protests, called on Tuesday for a civilian government.
“If we want to establish a democratic nation, we have to change government servants to be the people’s servants, so that we will be able to change the government to think like the people and the people to think like government,” it said in a statement.
One 88 Generation Students leader, Ko Pyone Cho, said, "It is essential that the nation’s supreme power comes from the people of the country.”
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.