Retired Myanmar Army Generals Form New Political Party With Eye on 2020 Vote

2019-03-01
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A man on a motorbike passes the headquarters of Myanmar's Union Election Commission in Naypyidaw, Oct. 27, 2015.
A man on a motorbike passes the headquarters of Myanmar's Union Election Commission in Naypyidaw, Oct. 27, 2015.
AFP

Myanmar’s election commission has approved a new political party formed by a splinter group of retired generals from the country’s main opposition party, who have their eyes on the next general election in 2020, an official from the agency said Friday.

The Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP), created by former military generals Soe Maung, Lun Maung, and Kyaw Thu, initially tried to register their party as the National Political Party in August 2018.

But after the Union Election Commission (UEC) rejected the original name of the party, they changed it to the current name.

“They came to complete the registration process yesterday,” said UEC spokesman Myint Naing. “They got the permit for the party formation a week ago.”

“They decided to change the party name after negotiations,” he said. “As required by the regulations for new parties, Soe Maung as party leader and Kyaw Thu as his deputy came for the registration.”

RFA could not reach former Major General Soe Maung for comment.

Soe Maung, the new party’s leader, was the military’s advocate general and served in the President’s Office under former President Thein Sein and his army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government.

He was a member of the USDP’s Central Executive Committee when the group became the main opposition political party to the civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) which came to power in 2016.

The major general also had a hand in the military commission that drafted Myanmar’s current constitution which guarantees the political power of the armed forces.

The new party’s deputy leader, former Major General Lun Maung, served as auditor general during Thein Sein’s administration, but was later dismissed from the post.

He later made headlines after he opened a restaurant in Bilin township in southeastern Myanmar’s Mon State and served customers himself.

Former Army Brigadier General Kyaw Thu served as chairman of the government board that recruits civil servants.

Parties prep for elections

The formation of the DNP comes as Myanmar’s political parties begin thinking about the next general election in 2020, and as lawmakers on a newly created constitutional reform committee start discussing which parts of the current 2008 charter should be amended to remove elements considered undemocratic.

USDP and military legislators have balked at the joint constitutional amendment panel which will likely propose changes that will erode the political power of the armed forces.

The current constitution gives military members of parliament an automatic 25 percent of seats, a crucial veto over proposed changes to the charter, and control of three defense and security ministries.

Min Ze Ya, vice chairman of the People’s Party — a political party started in 2018 by members of the 88 Generation pro-democracy group — said the formation of the new party by the former generals signals their desire to influence both military and civilian aspects of government.

“The 2008 constitution already apportioned to the military exceptional powers and privileges in parliament,” he told RFA's Myanmar Service. “This is an attempt to expand the military’s power beyond the legally appointed members and into the elected civilian candidates.”

“In other words, by combining the two forces of military-appointed members and affiliated civilians, the military will cement its domination in [Myanmar] politics and keep it this way for the long term,” he said.

Former MP Thein Kyaw of the National Unity Party who won a seat in the 2015 general election, said it remains to be seen if the National Politics Democratic Party will be accepted by voters.

“It could grow into a major party and attract more members, and then it would have stronger financial resources,” he said. “But, in the end, we will see in the upcoming general election to what extent it can effectively convert members into votes.”

Tu Jar, chairman of Kachin State Democracy Party, said he has no concerns about the formation of a new party because ethnic minority parties are also competing for voter support.

“It is an emergence of another political force in a new political system,” he said.

“We are willing to work with all other parties, including the NLD, regardless of who the [new party’s] founders are.”

‘Meant to enhance democracy’

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said voters are competent enough to make the right decision in next year's general election, and they will decide which parties will move ahead.

“We welcome all new parties,” he said. “[They] are meant to enhance democracy.”

“Regardless of the number of parties, people will decide their fate in the elections,” he said. “We have no concern about that.”

The ruling NLD-led government believes that constitutional reform is necessary so that Myanmar can move closer to forming a federal democratic union.

The party, which won the country’s 2015 elections by a landslide after decades of army-backed rule, promised prior to the vote to amend the charter in part to limit the political power of the military.

But once in power, the NLD backed off from pursuing the issue so as not to damage its delicate power-sharing arrangement with the military.

Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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