JAKARTA, INDONESIA — The Myanmar military junta has promised a new election and that it would hand over power to whoever wins the polls, following the people’s protests against its coup that led to the arrest of the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and president Win Myint.
The military has yet to confirm when the election would be held.
However, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council stated that the military will not hold on to power for too long despite declaring a state of emergency lasting for a year.
“Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party,” he announced in the military’s first press conference since the overthrow of the Suu Kyi government.
The coup in early February triggered worldwide condemnation. The United Nations (U.N.) called on the military to respect the people of Myanmar’s freedom of expression, warning that any acts of brutality will escalate the situation.
Military alleges vote fraud in 2020 election, but yet to provide evidence?
The military takeover was purportedly sparked by allegations of vote-rigging in the November 2020 election, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party gained a whopping 83 per cent of the vote, enabling it to form a government.
However, Steve Gumaer, founder of emergency relief NGO Partners Relief & Development observed that the military has yet to provide any evidence of the electoral fraud so far.
“No, there has been no evidence provided. But even if there were, there would be an administrative procedure to investigate and deal with those allegations.
“Nobody deserves to have their rights denied by the army. And so, even if there were indicators that this was a rigged election, this is an illegal way to deal with that possibility,” Gumaer told TOC in a Zoom interview on 15 Feb.
International human rights lawyer Jared Gesner, who has extensive experience in Myanmar, told TOC that the coup violated the constitution, as it stipulates that only a president can declare a state of emergency.
“When the military removed the president, only a vice president can declare a state of emergency. The constitution states that the removal of a president can be allowed by two-thirds of the parliament,” Gesner said.
He posited that in such a situation, the military may sack members of an independent electoral commission and replace it with those connected to the military to justify their assertion of vote-rigging.
Myanmar’s minorities vulnerable to impact of coup
While the election itself was reportedly free and fair, there are some “serious problems” that plagued the electoral process in Myanmar, said Gesner.
For example, the Rohingya people—often dubbed as the world’s most persecuted minority—could not vote, as they are not recognised by Myanmar as citizens of the country.
People of other ethnic groups in military-claimed regions, on the other hand, face challenges in voting, with a large number of people being illegally disqualified.
“There are serious problems in the election, even though those will not change the outcome of the poll,” Gesner opined.
Despite being a globally-recognised icon of democracy, Suu Kyi faces strong criticism for doing little or nothing to protect the Rohingya people — many of whom are Muslims.
Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote in 2017 that her response to the Rohingya crisis “amounts to a mixture of silence, the denial of well-documented evidence, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid”.
Suu Kyi’s supporters, however, claim that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has to maintain delicate ties with the military despite her having been imprisoned by the military before. Additionally, she is backed by a vocal Buddhist nationalist constituency.
Gesner regretted that many Myanmar people tend to believe misinformation and hoaxes about Muslims, worsening the situation faced by the Rohingya.
What is going to happen next?
While sanctions on the Myanmar military leadership can be “a positive mechanism, to both shame and to take away the incentives” from orchestrating such a coup, Gumaer said that general sanctions would “hurt Myanmar and its people”.
The “raw solidarity of countries making these relational statements” against what the military regime has done, he said, can also serve as a powerful response.
“You probably saw yesterday that the U.K., the U.S., E.U., and one other embassy had all made a public statement denouncing this [coup] and asking for a return to the democratic process.
“That’s a huge step, you know when embassies make those statements publicly,” Gumaer wrapped up the interview.
ASEAN itself also faces criticism for not being unified in responding to the Myanmar political crisis.
Indonesia continues to persuade ASEAN member countries to give constructive solutions to ease tensions in Myanmar.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that the U.N. and other Western countries have expressed support for Indonesia’s and ASEAN’s efforts to help Myanmar.