Head of the Burmese army General Min Aung Hlaing, in a speech made to more than 10000 troops, said that “protecting the constitution is one of the main responsibilities of the army as [it builds the] country into becoming a modern, prosperous and developed democracy”. Mr. Min spoke at an event marking Armed Forces Day, which Myanmar celebrates every year to commemorate the day when its army rose up against the Japanese occupiers in World War II.
His comments come five days before the country holds its parliamentary by-elections, which is scheduled to take place on 1 April. Myanmar’s pro-democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, however, had previously said that she considered the allocation of parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military as undemocratic. Ms. Suu Kyi also called for the constitution, which was written under the former military junta that ruled Myanmar for more than 40 years, to be amended.
While Mr. Min insisted that the military played a critical role in keeping the nation stable during its years of ruling, the country was known then by many to be under political oppression, economic mismanagement, turmoil and unrest. President Thein Sein’s party took over the leadership in 2010 and has been aggressively pursuing a series of reforms since then. This includes the releasing of hundreds of political prisoners, introducing media freedoms, and allowing Ms. Suu Kyi to run for a seat in the parliament.
Unfortunately, Ms. Suu Kyi herself has cut short her campaign trail due to illness. According to Ms. Suu Kyi’s doctor Tin Myo Win, Ms. Suu Kyi was exhausted and suffered from vomiting and low blood pressure last Saturday when the boat she was travelling in got stuck on a sandbank for several hours. Mr. Tin had advised her to cancel her final campaign trip to Magway, and said that she will be resting for the week.
Meanwhile, as the election date draws closer, President Thein Sein has been urging the country to respect “the decision of the people”. He was quoted by The New Light of Myanmar as saying that Myanmar needs “to work together to ensure that the outcome is accepted by all the people”. Mr. Thein Sein’s government has been pushing for “free and fair” elections, a condition which the West requires that Myanmar fulfills before it considers the lifting of its sanctions.
Report: Burma’s top general defends army’s role in politics [BBC, 27 March 2012]
Report: Myanmar general defends military’s political role [AP, 27 March 2012]
Report: Respect ‘decision of the people’: Myanmar president [AFP, 27 March 2012]
Report: Suu Kyi cancels Myanmar campaign travel [AFP, 26 March 2012]