Myanmar’s Military Leader Pledges to Work With New President

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myanmar-military-parliament-vote-mar15-2016.jpg Military lawmakers arrive at parliament in Naypyidaw to cast votes for Myanmar's next president, March 15, 2016.

Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief on Wednesday endorsed incoming president Htin Kyaw and pledged that the country’s armed forces will cooperate with the new administration to bring stability, peace, unity and development to the country.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s nod to Htin Kyaw from the National League of Democracy (NLD) party, which swept last November’s national elections, comes as the government military continues to engage in hostilities with armed ethnic militias in various parts of the nation.

“It is hereby announced that the Tatmadaw [military] takes pride in U [honorific] Htin Kyaw’s being elected as the President at the Second Union Parliament, and it will continue cooperating in every sector for the emergence of peace, unity and development,” read a statement posted by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief on Facebook.

Htin Kyaw will take over from current President Thein Sein from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) at the end of the month and appoint a cabinet.

The interests of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament and appointments to three key security ministries, will be represented in the new government by retired Lieutenant General Myint Swe, the 64-year-old chief minister of Yangon region, who was voted in by lawmakers as one of Myanmar’s two vice presidents on March 15.

No easy time ahead

Pyi Thway Naing, editor-in-chief of Khit Yanant monthly magazine, said Myint Swe’s appointment as first vice president would harm the powerful military’s relationship with citizens and cause problems for the NLD government.

“When the military members of parliament [MPs] nominated Myint Swe as a vice president, people around the country were disappointed because they felt they were ignoring their wishes,” he said.

“As everybody knows, Myint Swe has connections with businessmen, has been tied to corruption, and is a hard-liner,” he said, noting that the retired army officer had ordered crackdowns on democratic forces, especially  Buddhist monks who led anti-government protests during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

Myint Swe is on the U.S. government’s list of sanctioned individuals for his actions under Myanmar’s military government, which was in power for a half-century until 2011.

Pyi Thway Naing also said the NLD would encounter difficulties in trying to work with Myint Swe.

“I feel there will be problems between the NLD and him soon,” he said.

Writer Nyi Pu Lay compared Myint Swe to a “vulture among sparrows” in parliament.

“He will definitely become uncomfortable among other MPs who attend parliamentary meetings happily and in unity,” he said. “The NLD MPs will think about, decide and make laws based on the interests of the people. The military MPs will think about laws based on their self-interest.”

Nevertheless, Nyi Pu Lay said he believes that military deputies will not pose a problem in parliament because the NLD holds more seats than they do.

“There will be different perspectives or ways of thinking in parliament, but it will appear as though he [Myint Swe] is hanging by his neck if he does something against the NLD’s MPs,” he said.

Unity and discipline

NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi issued a statement on Wednesday thanking lawmakers, especially deputies from her party who voted in unity and with discipline, for selecting Htin Kyaw as president and ethnic Chin lawmaker Henry Van Thio as second vice president.

In her first official statement following their elections, she also said she believes that Myanmar will overcome challenges to peace and national reconciliation after decades-long civil wars by cooperating with others in the government.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been at loggerheads with the military, which opposed changes she wanted to make to the constitution that would have reduced its power in parliament and allowed her to become president.

Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the top office by a provision in the constitution, drafted in 2008 when the military junta ruled the country, which prohibits anyone with foreign-born relatives from becoming president.

After the NLD won the November elections, she met with Min Aung Hlaing three times to discuss the transfer of power to the new government led by her party, although pundits speculated that the meetings were ineffectual.

Activist Mya Aye, one of the members of Myanmar’s pro-democracy 88 Generation Student group, said it would be difficult for the NLD to work with the military deputies in parliament because they control 25 percent of the body's seats.

“The NLD has to operate according to the constitution,” he said. “It will be difficult for the NLD to proceed because it must work with a group [the military] which has different experiences and perspectives.”

Reported by Thinn Thiri and others for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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