For many people, the news that Myanmar’s senior state affairs, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President Wen Min and other dignitaries, were detained by the military early on February 1. But in the eyes of those who have been observing the situation in Myanmar for a long time, all this has long omended.”
I don’t think anyone can say exactly what will happen in the next three days, but it is clear that Myanmar is moving towards the worst constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old military junta in 2010. Tan Minwu, the grandson of former Secretary-General of the United Nations, and famous Burmese historian Tan Minwu, said on social media at the end of January.
In general, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has been cautiously maintaining cooperative relations with the military since he took office. However, since the overwhelming victory of the NLD in the general election last November, the military and its allies have continuously accused “election fraud”, the atmosphere of political confrontation in Myanmar has continued to intensify, and with the arrival of the new parliament on February 1, the military’s attitude has become increasingly tough.
The election may be just a fuse. The military’s actions are driven by multiple reasons, including changes in Myanmar’s power structure, fear of weakening its political status, and differences with NLD on many issues.
1. Some “important clues” of last year’s election
Before dawn on February 1, the Myanmar military launched a clear and direct operation, including detention, propaganda control, social control and transfer of power.
First, detain the leaders of the NLD and relevant political parties, some ethnic minority political parties and student leaders. According to relevant news, in addition to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Wen Min, nearly 30 people were taken away, including the Minister of Education, the Chief Minister of Yangon, the Chief Minister of Mandalay Province, the Chief Minister of Magwe Province, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s private lawyers and health doctors. According to local media and social media in Myanmar on the 2nd, some provincial chief ministers have returned home that day.
Second, Myanmar’s national television has suffered a “technical” suspension, and after the resumption of broadcasting later, it became the main channel for the Myanmar military to issue a state of emergency and announce the new government.
Third, complete social control, including suspending domestic and international flights, temporarily closing bank financial services, issuing curfews, and cutting off Internet and communication in major cities for a while.
Fourth, quickly complete the transfer and replacement of power, declare the transfer of state power to the commander-in-chief of the National Defense Forces, Min Onlai, and appoint at least 11 new federal ministers. At this point, the Myanmar military has established a civilian government headed by Acting President Min Rui to represent its interests at the front desk.
At the same time, the public opinion field has formed a tit-for-tat confrontation between the Myanmar military and the NLD. The spokesman of the NLD government initially publicly stated that he hoped that the people would not do rashly and abide by the law. However, a statement issued on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s social media at noon on the 1st began to emphasize that we should not accept the military’s actions and fight back.
The Myanmar military said that there was a large-scale “fraud” in the general election last November, saying that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD’s actions made the democratic elections meaningless.
As the saying goes, the storm is coming, and the outbreak of Myanmar’s “February crisis” actually has long omens, and some important clues can be seen from the key issues before and after last year’s election. Myanmar has held three national elections since 2008, and last year’s general election can be said to be the most violent, which can be seen from the extent of the white heat of party competition.
On the weekend of early October, a family in Magwey Province, Myanmar, was attacked by more than 100 people after playing the NLD victory song. A leader of the NLD Township Executive Committee and his family were rescued, but their houses, cars, etc. were damaged. On October 29, NLD MPs were attacked by armed violent elements at a campaign rally, which was threatened before it was held.
On November 6, near the general election, the seat of the Election Commission in Bagu Province, Myanmar, was bombed and some buildings were destroyed. According to the police, the operation was carefully planned.
At a time last year when NLD was worried that violence would affect the election process, accusations of “election fraud” were rampant and eventually became the reason for the Myanmar military to launch the operation. As early as August 2020, the military and the Federal Consolidation and Development Party (Gongfa Party) and its representative began to focus on topics such as the free and fair environment of the general election.
At that time, Min Aung-lai said bluntly in a meeting with the heads of 34 political parties that he was willing to do anything necessary for Myanmar. Gong Fa Party and others expressed the hope that Min Anglai could help under unfair voting. It was said that in the event of “fraud”, no institution can ask the affected people for help, but only the support of Min’onlai.
After the election results were released, accusations of “malpractice” and “fraud” between the NLD government and the Electoral Commission triggered a series of protests. On November 17 last year, the National Political Democratic Party held a demonstration in Dongzhi, Shan State, saying that there was a “derogation vote”, which did not occur in the previous two general elections.
On November 22, a march of more than 500 people was held in the town of Bangpiao, Magwe Province. On the same day, about 200 demonstrators gathered in front of the office of Gongfa Party Miaowadi. On January 14, 2021, a demonstration of more than 1,000 people was held in the town of Mithila, Mandala Province. Protesters supported the military’s claim to censorship of votes for “fraud”.
At the end of January, similar protests continued to break out in Yangon and other places.
As the date of the new parliament approaches, the game between the military and the NLD is becoming more and more fierce. The NLD, the government, the Electoral Commission, etc. have always denied the accusations of the military, while Min’anglai and others have shown an increasingly tough attitude on the topic of “election fraud”.
On January 27, Min’on-Lay said in a video speech that the 2008 Constitution is “the parent law of all laws” and should be respected, but in specific cases it is necessary to repeal it.
Media reported last week that the relationship between the NLD government and the military was “suddenly tense”, and the police sent a large number of personnel to key locations in Naypyidu, including strengthening the security of the parliament building, because of news that demonstrators might gather in the capital. In addition, NLD and military leaders held talks last Thursday, but they were “unsuccessful”. We can’t pretend that nothing has happened.” A NLD member said a few days ago.
2. Significant changes have taken place in the development of political forces.
By accusing all parties concerned of “violating the laws and procedures before the vote” and repeatedly expressing their responsibility to oppose unconstitutional acts, the Myanmar military emphasizes its identity as the “guardian” and constitutional defender of the country, which provides a basis of jurisprudence and public opinion for its actions.
However, the unbalanced development and internal tension between Myanmar’s existing power structure, institutional arrangements and agenda are the root causes of the “February crisis”.
In the view of the Myanmar military, their dominant power in the development of the country’s democratic politics is facing increasingly obvious challenges, one manifested by the increasing difficulty of countering NLD through the existing democratic electoral system.
As we all know, Myanmar is a multi-party country with political parties built on the basis of different values such as development, democracy and ethnicity. Among them, the NLD and Gongfa Party are the most representative. As the largest opposition party in Myanmar politics, NLD won the 2015 and 2020 elections.
The front composed of it at its core and its supporters is an important part of Myanmar’s political struggle structure. The main members of Gongfa Party are born from the military.
They are the spokespersons and important interests of the Myanmar military in the political arena. They take the party as the core and its supporters and alliance party form another front. At the same time, there is another important force in Myanmar’s politics – the ethnic minority party, which was previously regarded as the “king” in the general election, is one of the important targets of the struggle between the NLD and the Gongfa Party.
Despite the traditional structure of politics, after the last two general elections, the development of forces on all sides has changed rapidly.
Not only did NLD win in the 2020 general election, but it also won 83% of the vote, winning 396 of 476 federal parliamentary seats.
Gongfa’s election results showed a downward trend, winning only 33 seats last year. This shows that Gongfa Party has lost its ability to compete with the NLD in democratic elections.
In addition, the complete victory of the NLD last year also deprived minority political parties of their ability to “create kings”, and their status showed a significant downward trend.
In this situation, the military has no expectations of checking and balancing NLD through elections under the established constitutional system.
3. The contradiction between structural dominant power and institutional power
The military may also face further pursuit by NLD through constitutional amendment.
The successive defeats of the Gongfa Party have disappointed the military to the army, and the continuous efforts of the Democratic League on constitutional amendment and amnesty for soldiers have greatly further stimulated the military, causing the latter to consider counterattacking.
On the issue of constitutional amendment, the interaction and game of all parties mainly revolve around two core issues: presidential candidate qualification and military representation.
For Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, she hopes to become the president of Myanmar and then promote her own design of national development, including the complete transformation of Myanmar into a democratic country and the restoration of civilian control over the army.
For the military, it is an important goal for the military to prevent Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president through the design of the 2008 Constitution.
But more importantly, the democratic line and plan promoted under the 2008 Constitution cannot aim at weakening the power of the military.
That is to say, in their view, any democratic transformation and political development in Myanmar cannot be “knifeed” on the military.
However, the NLD has proposed on the constitutional amendment agenda to gradually reduce the 25% of the seats currently reserved by the constitution for non-elected military members, which will not only gradually lose the military’s veto power in Parliament, but also make them feel that their power is threatened.
Last March, the NLD launched a vote on constitutional amendment, but almost all of the proposals, including weakening the political power of the army and limiting the presidential qualification, were rejected. To amend the constitution, 75% of the parliamentarians need to agree.
In addition, there is more tension between the military’s structural dominant power and the agenda and institutional power obtained by the NLD through the victory of the general election.
There are differences of interests and contradictions between the two sides on many issues, among which the Rohingya and the 21st century “Binglong Conference” issue is the most obvious.
On the Rohingya issue, although both the NLD government and the military have been criticized, the military is the direct target of sanctions and criticism, and they are quite tough on this issue, and do not believe that the Rohingya have the right to live in Myanmar. Therefore, the attitudes and views of the military and NLD governments on dealing with this issue are not consistent.
In terms of the topic of the “Binlong Conference” in the 21st century, the promotion of dialogue and broadening dialogue participation are what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and his NLD government eagerly want to see, but the military has never lowered the requirement to “drop arms” for ethnic minority local armed forces (referred to as “DDIRF”) as their participation in national reconciliation and peace.
Prerequisites of the process. To this end, the conflict between the military and the “mindiwu” in northern Myanmar has not been interrupted even during the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic last year.
This means that although the NLD has made progress on many issues since taking office, promoting the country’s economic and social development and promoting Myanmar’s further opening up, there has been no obvious progress in eliminating differences and contradictions with the military.
Therefore, once the tension of the agenda, institutional power and structural power of the military held by NLD expands rapidly, the latter is likely to take tough action.
At present, Myanmar is facing more uncertainty in political, economic and social order. If there is chaos, the epidemic prevention and control will encounter more serious challenges.
Therefore, it should be a pleasure for all parties to peacefully solve problems and ensure the stability of Myanmar’s national order under Myanmar’s constitutional and legal procedures.