Elections were set to take place in August 2023, but Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of Myanmar’s junta, abruptly shifted course. He acknowledged that the military did not control enough of the country to conduct elections when he announced on February 1 that the junta’s illegitimate rule would continue for another six months. For those in the international community who had foolishly hoped that fake elections would lead to a stable Myanmar, this development constitutes a setback.
The junta’s official acknowledgment that it doesn’t have control shows that it hasn’t succeeded in restoring a military regime. The generals are currently looking for alternative potential routes to consolidate power while a fog of uncertainty hangs over the elections.
Many in the international community had wrongly believed that the pattern of previous coups — military atrocities coupled with a rigged election — would dictate the trajectory this time and lead to stability. They had pinned their hopes on the junta’s elections as a pathway to peace in Myanmar. Everyone who interacts with the people of Burma may see that this time is different.
In the populace, the past ten years of relative freedom have awakened strong forces that serve as the backbone of a movement that has remained steadfast in the face of a murderous mafia junta determined to terrorize and divide it. The international community should understand that aiding opposition efforts, not the junta, is the realistic route to peace and stability in Burma.
Changing the Military Constitution of 2008
The National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) of the dictatorship came to the unjustified conclusion that Myanmar hadn’t yet reached “normal circumstances” the day before Min Aung Hlaing’s declaration. With the use of this proclamation, Min Aung Hlaing was able to justify the extension of the junta’s control.
The 2008 military constitution, in its provision 425, allows the NDSC “to generally authorize two extensions of the prescribed [emergency] duration for a term of six months for each extension,” beyond the original one-year period of martial law required by a declaration of a national emergency. (After the coup on February 1, 2021, the military proclaimed a state of emergency.) The constitution mandates that elections must be held within six months after this two-year period is up. The NDSC unilaterally decided it had the right to extend its rule by another six months because these are not “typical” conditions.
In the modern history of Myanmar, the military has a history of disobeying their own constitutions. Gen. Ne Win, the founder of the military rule in Myanmar, frequently vowed his steadfast support for the 1947 constitution for independence before overthrowing it in the 1962 uprising. The military adhered to Ne Win’s 1974 constitution until it was no longer useful to him, according to Gen. Saw Maung, the commander of the September 1988 coup, who repealed it following his coup. The most recent coup leader in Myanmar is now imitating them.
Naïve expectations that are rushed
The junta chose August 2023 as the election date in the hopes that it would give its attempt to seize power worldwide validity and split the opposition movement. The Junta’s election-related propaganda emphasized the significance of its planned elections and exaggerated election preparations, making them a topic of discussion among the worldwide community.
There is plenty of evidence that the coup leader does not view the elections as an exit, but rather as a way to split the resistance, advance his military goals, and consolidate power. Nevertheless, some international observers were duped into thinking that Min Aung Hlaing would be able to leave office thanks to the elections.
Others offered flimsy legal defences in which they claimed that the military dictatorship was forced to organize elections in accordance with the constitution despite the obvious unconstitutionality of the coup itself in 2021.
Min Aung Hlaing has made repeated attempts to depict the military as the protector of the 2008 constitution, yet his actions have shown that he is willing to flout the law in order to hold onto power. He publicly stated that he was ready to repeal the constitution if necessary just a few days prior to the coup.
Armed Forces Driven by Self-Preservation
A power-hungry military would bend itself and change its goals to cling to power by whatever means necessary, as Myanmar’s recent history reveals. This is more true today than ever because many military personnel believe that losing power would mean their own and the military’s own definite demise.
Power-hungry generals’ main goal is to have total control over the state, not to uphold the constitution or the rule of law, seek stability, or advance the welfare of the populace. In fact, the generals are better seen as a kind of mafia committed more to self-preservation and self-interest than to the welfare of the state, regardless of the harm that may result to the nation or its citizens.
No matter how illegitimate, graphic, and restricted a triumph turns out to be, the generals are willing to accept a pyrrhic one if it ensures their life. These generals are cut off from the rest of society and live in their own cosmos. They exhibit a mafioso mentality, one that is primarily motivated by cynicism, megalomania, bigotry, insecurity, hatred, and self-preservation. The regime feels that the only way it can survive is through splitting the resistance groups and causing widespread suffering among the populace.
Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that military authority has never been reliable and that many people despise the military, even those who aren’t actively involved in the current opposition. The desire of the people have to be taken into account when deciding on a course for stability in Myanmar. How can a murderous and inept military that has spent two years murdering its own people be a part of the next administration?
Misconceptions Activating Global Responses
Many international policymakers frequently see Myanmar’s junta as government actors committed to a constituency and the interests of the country because of their own experiences. The world community, especially Myanmar’s neighbors, hold out hope that military officials may be reasoned with despite how bloodthirsty and cruel the regime has been. The generals are mischaracterized by the international community as “rational state actors” who will act in Myanmar’s best interests.
This is a serious misinterpretation of the military, a paranoid clique of combat-hardened ultranationalists who have been politicized and traumatized by years of conflict. Before 2010, Myanmar was governed by a military administration, which Lee Kuan Yew, a former prime minister of Singapore, called “dense” and “stupid,” adding that engaging with the regime is similar to “talking to dead people.” It is natural that relatively few people in foreign governments have much experience with the country and its people, let alone its hermetic military authorities, given that Burma has been a remote and isolated issue in international affairs.
The military has been misunderstood, which has resulted in erroneous conclusions and damaging actions. They support the hypothesis that the junta will participate in political dialogue in a sincere manner. Also, they serve as the cornerstone of the ASEAN five-point consensus, which has produced no results. The junta openly disputed the five-point consensus’ legality in February despite accepting it in 2021, stating that “Myanmar regards the ASEAN five-point accord as not a legally enforceable document.” The ASEAN proposal, which calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and talks between all parties involved, has been rendered meaningless by the junta’s latest extension of emergency rule and persistent bloodshed.
How to achieve stability
International actors must be aware that the mafioso mentality of the country’s generals does not value compromise; only brute force is valued when thinking about the prospects for a negotiated settlement in Myanmar. Under the current conditions, the generals prefer endless war to negotiation. They will only come to the table when they see they have no road to military triumph.
Additionally, the military has frequently shown throughout its history that it will only communicate with people who it deems to be on an equal military footing. For instance, the military prevented the Arakan Army (AA) from taking part in peace negotiations until the AA proved its military prowess and exhibited territorial control.
The author once saw a general sternly challenge the delegate from a minor ethnic armed group, asking, “How much strength do you have to negotiate with me as an equal?” during the pre-coup peace process. We understood that we have been bargaining from a position of weakness, Brang Seng, the former rebel leader of the Kachin Liberation Army, said in his account of how peace negotiations broke down in 1981. We wouldn’t be able to negotiate with the military until we were united with all the other ethnic groups.
The people of Myanmar have suffered greatly at the hands of the generals, much like ethnic minority populations that have survived decades of military atrocities, and they are aware that the military will only speak with other militaries when they see no other way to achieve their objectives. As a result, the populace is compelled to make the difficult choice to join the military in battle.
Without acknowledging these fundamental truths, the world will continue to engage with and support the State Administration Council, which will only reinforce the military’s deluded idea that it can prevail and undermine efforts by the people of Myanmar to save their nation. Stimulating the junta merely prolongs the bloody strife and misery endured by the people of Burma. The opposition must be strengthened if we are to reach a negotiated settlement.
There is no way to achieve stability in Myanmar by putting these generals in power. The general populace despises them. Myanmar will experience instability and bloody strife as long as they remain in charge.
Source: United States Institute of Peace