The Current Political Situation in Myanmar

            Efforts to find solutions to any issue should include an analysis of the issue from all perspectives. A fair and balanced analysis of the current political situation in Myanmar requires information from all perspectives and all sources. With regard to the Myanmar public and the existing political difficulties, analysis and solutions based on hard facts are required, rather than emotions.

            In the early 2010s, at a time when many other parts of the world were making the transition to democracy with much difficulty and bloodshed, Myanmar made a calm and peaceful transition to a democratic system, one of the very few countries to do so. Myanmar’s efforts were acknowledged by the international community at the time. It is an incontrovertible fact that the Myanmar Defense Services (Tatmadaw) led Myanmar’s peaceful transition to democracy and nurture of the seeds of democracy in Myanmar. Nurturing the seeds of democracy was a challenging task, as a study of Myanmar’s history will show. Thus, the Tatmadaw remains committed to preventing any action that would subvert Myanmar’s hard-won democracy.

            Yet, so-called experts on Myanmar and western media have portrayed recent events as the Tatmadaw’s attempts to take power and perpetuate military rule. That this is untrue is clearly shown by the actions of the Myanmar State Administration Council.

            Past events show that from 2010 to 2020, the Tatmadaw never took sides in elections conducted by any government, whether it was the government led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) or by the National League for Democracy (NLD), and that the Tatmadaw facilitated the holding of free and fair elections. The Tatmadaw did not intervene in the 2015 elections where the NLD won in a landslide victory. The Tatmadaw continued operating under the rule of the civilian government.

            However, the 2020 elections were markedly different from the 2015 elections. The current situation originated from electoral fraud on a massive scale that went beyond mere irregularities. With a view to having fully transparent and fair elections, the Tatmadaw repeatedly issued official announcements highlighting the clear evidence found of inflated voter lists, which could potentially be electoral fraud. From the list of 39.2 million eligible voters issued by the Union Electoral Commission (UEC), there is now clear evidence of fraud involving 10.4 million so-called votes. Assessments in the field also show proof of voter fraud, wrong voter lists, and clear violations of the election law, including admissions of guilt from those who had committed the voter fraud. The number of eligible voters issued by the Department of Immigration and Population amounted to only 32 million, while the list of eligible voters issued by the UEC amounted to 39.2 million, showing a significant difference.

            The 10.4 million fraudulent votes account for one-fourth of the eligible voters issued by the UEC. Investigations found evidence of deliberate, massive fraud, such as irregularities involving both surplus and missing ballots, duplicate printed ballots, ballots that had not been registered on any official list, and incomplete records of voter identities, even though ballots had been issued to those so-called voters.

            Since genuinely fair elections are the lifeblood of democratic systems, electoral fraud on such a massive scale would not be accepted by any democratic country in the world. Therefore, both the Tatmadaw and several political parties repeatedly called attention to the mistakes in the voter lists and other factors that indicated electoral fraud, and officially requested the UEC to rectify and resolve the problems. However, the UEC had not done so. Subsequently, in line with democratic principles, the Tatmadaw and political parties had made concerted attempts to arrive at a negotiated solution, by requesting the government and the Hluttaw to call a Special Session of the Hluttaw and then a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council. However, the government had ignored or rejected all these attempts to resolve the situation and had tried to call a session of the new Hluttaw to form a new government, based on the fraudulent results of the 2020 elections. These unilateral actions brought about an emergency situation for the country, as defined in the 2008 Constitution, which therefore resulted in the temporary transfer of state power to the Tatmadaw.

            The transfer of state power to the military is meant only to organize free and fair elections and restore the political process. It was with this purpose that the members of the State Administration Council were appointed: the members include representatives of the Tatmadaw, the various ethnic groups, and political parties. At state/region, district and township levels, respected community leaders have been appointed in leadership positions, which shows the attention being paid to civilian rule.

            While the Tatmadaw has had to take charge due to the current emergency situation, the Tatmadaw has not changed the way the government works. The Tatmadaw established the State Administration Council, which is running the government, and has clearly announced that general elections would be held within one to two years. However, some destructive agents provocateurs are using various means to instigate violence, which have now turned previously peaceful demonstrations into all-out efforts to restore state power to the NLD, which had acted like a one-party dictatorship. As a result of these instigations, the violence escalated up to the point of anarchy and mob rule, where the mobs then openly commit violent acts aimed at destroying the state machinery.

            In response to these lawless acts of violence and to prevent injury, death and damage, the security forces have adhered to international norms for crowd and riot control by exercising utmost restraint and using the least force and the lowest level of response possible in every situation. However, due to the extreme violence, there have been unavoidable injuries and losses on both sides. Sadly, unscrupulous anarchists who work behind the scenes are using and manipulating Generation Z young people as puppets in a political ploy. In the ensuing violence, some members of the police forces have lost their lives, sustained injuries, and had death threats made against their family members.

            The civil disobedience movement (CDM) has changed, from one that was aimed merely at stopping government machinery, to an elevated level of threats, pressure and physical attacks that are made against people who did not want to be part of CDM.  Under the term “Social Punishment”, innocent civil servants and citizens were publicly threatened or shamed with a variety of methods, and in addition, physically tortured and murdered, just because they did not join the CDM or had different beliefs. Such acts of torture and murder are unacceptable in any context, whether the Myanmar cultural context or the context of any religion.

            The current unrest and demonstrations in Myanmar may be described in five stages. After the Tatmadaw took over state power, demonstrations began from 4 February onwards. In the first stage, within the first two weeks of February, such demonstrations took the form of peaceful protests focusing on support for democracy and opposition to military dictatorship. At that time, people from all classes who opposed the transfer of state power to the Tatmadaw as well as NLD supporters took part in these peaceful protests. This was the first stage.

            In the second to third week of February, the protests changed, and became focused on destroying the governance machinery of the State Administration Council, restoring state power to the NLD, driving the CDM, and creating violence and rioting. This was the second stage. Participants in this stage included NLD supporters, young people being used by politicians, and civil servants who did not want the State Administration Council to govern. These groups then joined up with illegal organizations such as the Committee Representing Pyithu Hluttaw (CRPH).

            Starting from the last week of February, the CRPH orchestrated the riots, together with NLD party members and destructive elements who did not want a strong national government. All these agents worked behind the scenes to urge young people, placed them at the front of the crowds, and deliberately turned the demonstrators into an anarchic mob. This was the third stage. This stage was characterized by the mobs seeking direct confrontation with security forces, armed attacks on police stations and social punishment and other attacks on those who did not join the CDM and those who were not NLD supporters.            

            In the first days of March, members of the CRPH, some NLD Party members and NLD supporters from behind the scenes organized anarchic mobs to an elevated level of new violence, forcing the close-down and barricades of public roads, vandalizing and destroying public offices, conducting violent group attacks on those who did not support NLD, and implementing armed attacks on security forces. At this point, the anarchic mobs were organized into violent action, the fourth stage of events.

            Starting from the second week of March, NLD supporters and violence instigators changed from attacking government machinery to a deliberate strategy of armed insurrection. Using whatever weapons they could obtain, they staged armed attacks on members of the security forces, armed raids on police stations, and arson attacks on factories and industrial buildings. This is the fifth stage. Urged on by the CRPH, active supporters of the NLD hired thugs and drug users as mercenaries to carry out acts that aimed at destruction of the state. Some lawbreakers and young people contacted armed organizations and fled to the border regions of the country. This resembles the events of the 1988 unrest, which created the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF). Thus, the current events are being driven towards the creation of a new armed organization, which will affect national security. Proof that the CRPH and NLD hard-core supporters are the main instigators of this dangerous trend can be found in the social media posts of CRPH and NLD supporters themselves.

            As the stages progressed—from peaceful protests in the first stage to armed insurrection in the fifth stage— most of the public who wish to live peacefully stopped participating from the beginning of the third stage. From the third stage of anarchic riots to fifth stage insurrection, NLD politicians, not wishing to face the various egal charges against them, have opted for a deliberate strategy of destruction of nation-wide governance mechanisms, instigating citizens who are easily swayed to new acts of violence in liaison with underground organizations. Therefore, from 14 March 2021, martial law was enacted and implemented in the six townships of Yangon region that were in the fifth stage of armed insurrection.         

            As a result of martial law implementation, the level of violence decreased markedly in these six townships as well as in other towns and cities, where a measure of stability and security returned. In these areas, citizens joined willingly with the security forces in removing road barriers and cleaning up roads, with the desire to return to normalcy, improve security for their families and resolve transport and communication difficulties, especially since these barriers were affecting their access to work and social and health services. Consequently, with road clearance, local markets were able to operate again, and trading activities resumed, and security and stability have improved.

            The data show that the unrest in Myanmar that began on 4 February 2021 had involved 5,140,585 people (9.52% of the country’s population) at its height on 22 February. On 14 March 2021, when martial law was implemented, an estimated 15,600 people (0.029% of the country’s population) had taken part in demonstrations. On 21 March 2021, 3,250 people (0.006% of total population) took part in demonstrations. The overall patterns show one of decreasing violence. While violent demonstrations are still staged in some cities, most citizens, who wish for stability and security have not participated. Instead, those who are participating in such violence are being led by the CRPH and a group of hard-core NLD supporters who wish to destroy national peace and stability through violent means.    

            Unethical media outlets and agencies have suppressed the truth and prevented much of the public from learning what happened. International media, including mainstream media, have deliberately released only heavily biased and one-sided reports, with attacks against the government based on unverified reports. Social media platforms have allowed the posting of false news, often based on wishful thinking, thus obscuring the desire of citizens who wish for peace, stability, and a return to normalcy.  

            Doctors who have violated the medical code of ethics by implementing CDM without regard to their patients and by exhorting other doctors to do the same, are responsible for the severe health care crisis now affecting the poor and the sick. Consequently, doctors and nurses from the medical corps of the Tatmadaw have stepped in to serve these patients and have opened the Tatmadaw health care facilities to the public and are providing free-of-cost health care services. Unethical media and social media have deliberately suppressed news reports of such events, as well as the news of civil servants whose lives have been devastated by various aspects of the CDM. Such actions have obscured and distorted the truth about the current situation in Myanmar, the strategy being to push the country into a political trap.

            Another analysis that needs to be made concerns civil-military relations. As known by international analysts and those skilled in Myanmar affairs, civil-military relations plunged to the lowest point during the time of the NLD-led government. The common meeting ground and bridge for civil-military relations is the National Defence and Security Council, which was not allowed to convene a single meeting during the time of the NLD government. Another proof of this is that when the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting Myanmar, the Tatmadaw offered to collaborate in combatting the pandemic but this offer was rejected by the NLD government. Such examples show that the NLD government never practiced the basic democratic principles of negotiation and collaboration in important national tasks.  

            Additionally, the NLD government was highly divisive, by encouraging practices that went against Myanmar culture and tradition, including on social media. It attempted to destroy the people’s belief in their ethnic group, language, and religion through various means. This sowed discord and created divisions in Myanmar society.

            Using democracy standards as a pretext, the NLD also attacked the Tatmadaw which has always defended first and foremost the national interest. It made the baseless claim that the Tatmadaw was not under civilian rule and tried to distort the public’s perception of the Tatmadaw by constantly attacking the Tatmadaw while the Tatmadaw was exercising its constitutional mandate of serving the national interest. In addition to not convening the National Defence and Security Council even once, the NLD government rejected the proposals of Tatmadaw members serving the Hluttaw, which had been made in the interests of national development, peace, and security. This resulted in the loss of opportunities for joint collaboration between the Tatmadaw and NLD government, and for using the Tatmadaw’s considerable strengths and capabilities in national security and development. Using its majority in the Hluttaw, the NLD passed laws affecting and undermining national security. Additionally, NLD party members worked to remove the Tatmadaw’s role in Myanmar political scene and tried to poison public opinion against the Tatmadaw representatives in the Hluttaw, and against the Tatmadaw’s efforts to protect Myanmar’s national interest. Thus, throughout the period of NLD-led government, civil-military relations sank to rock bottom. Today, it is indeed sad to see the hatred that some of the Myanmar public hold against the Tatmadaw.

            The State Administration Council is implementing a five-point agenda that includes peaceful coexistence and a foreign policy of neutrality as before. It wishes to have friendly relations with all countries. The strategic position of Myanmar in the Indo-Pacific region and the dynamics among the world’s superpowers make it imperative for Myanmar to implement a policy of strict neutrality more than ever. Small countries such as Myanmar are subject to pressure on all sides from superpowers. It is not possible for such a country to stand on its own, and Myanmar wishes to have collaboration with friendly nations. History shows that the sanctions against Myanmar implemented over many years did not accomplish their objective, and instead, led only to undesirable consequences and repercussions. In any human society, mutual respect and understanding are crucial in ensuring good communication and building harmonious relations. In Myanmar politics, beginning with the struggle for the country’s independence, the Tatmadaw has traditionally been the most stable and strongest institution, and thus, it is an institution which cannot be ignored or excluded in efforts to build the country, achieve national reconciliation and transition to a more fully-fledged democracy.

            The Tatmadaw, as the organization that first implemented the multi-party democratic system in Myanmar, only desires to see a government based on transparent and genuinely fair elections, which are essential for any multi-party democracy. Dishonest and undisciplined political manoeuvres will only destroy the underpinnings of democracy. It was for this reason that the Tatmadaw reviewed and assessed the 2020 election results, where it found massive fraud to have been committed. The move by the Tatmadaw to take over state power temporarily was not a pre-planned one. Neither was it an act of taking down a government and seizing power from that government. Instead, the Tatmadaw was obliged to declare an emergency situation in accordance with the Constitution, and unavoidably, state power was transferred to the Tatmadaw.    

            Now that the Tatmadaw has taken temporary responsibility for the country, it has established the State Administration Council with a five-point agenda for action and nine objectives. At the same time, the Tatmadaw is guiding Myanmar on the path to democracy. The Tatmadaw believes that all these actions will support the transformation of Myanmar into a democracy that is based on a federal system.

            The State Administration Council vows to establish only a political system desired by the Myanmar public. It does not wish to establish a military government, which is not what the majority of the Myanmar people want. Consistent with this undertaking, more than half the Council members are civilians, while senior Tatmadaw officials are supporting and implementing civilian rule and administration. The Tatmadaw is striving to realize the goal of fair elections at the end of the emergency period, so that Myanmar people are able to elect a government that truly reflects their choice. At the present, the Tatmadaw is working patiently to achieve a situation of stability, peace, and rule of law, dealing with violence by using the lowest possible level of force. At the same time, the Tatmadaw is striving to achieve development progress on many fronts. In this endeavour, the Tatmadaw will always ensure that the three objectives of the Union are defended, protected, and adhered to: namely, the non-disintegration of the Union, the non-disintegration of national solidarity, and the perpetuation of sovereignty. The Tatmadaw is also taking measures to progress towards a Union of Myanmar based on a federal democratic system.

Min Khant