Myanmar army downplays coup rhetoric amid putsch fears

Police stand guard along a road in Naypyidaw on January 29, 2021, ahead of the reopening of the parliament on February 1 following the November 2020 elections which Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. (Photo: AFP)
  • Agence France-Presse
  • January 30, 2021 9:04 AM

Yangon, Myanmar | Myanmar's military on Saturday vowed to abide by the country's constitution, in an apparent backtracking after its commander-in-chief spurred fears of a coup when he suggested the junta-scripted charter could be repealed. 

The powerful army has for weeks alleged widespread irregularities in November's election, won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). 

Tensions ramped up Tuesday when a military spokesman refused to rule out the possibility of a coup. 

A day later, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing -- arguably the most powerful person in Myanmar -- said revoking the 2008 constitution could be "necessary" under certain circumstances. 

His comments -- translated into English and published in army-run Myawady newspaper -- sent shockwaves through the nascent democracy, only a decade out of the grips of a 49-year military junta.  

On Saturday the army released a statement claiming its commander-in-chief had been misunderstood, though the statement did not directly address fears of an imminent coup. 

"Other organisations and media misinterpreted the commander-in-chief's speech and framed it from their point of view," said the statement.  

"Tatmadaw is abiding by the current constitution ... and will perform within the law by defending it," it added, referring to the army by its official Burmese name.

The last time the country saw its constitution revoked was in 1988, when the military reinstated a junta after a popular uprising.

The general's comments on the constitution drew alarm from more than a dozen foreign missions and the UN, while smaller political parties called for a resolution between Suu Kyi and the military. 

The country's highest Buddhist authority even stepped in, with the senior monks of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka issuing a statement late Friday calling for negotiations to prevail "instead of heated arguments".  

The military is alleging 10 million cases of voter fraud in November's polls, and is demanding the election commission release the electoral roll for cross-checking. 

The commission has denied fraud, though it has conceded that there were "flaws" in the lists of voters. 

Historian and author Thant Myint-U said "the priority now is protecting Myanmar's incredibly narrow path to democracy."

"But equally important is finding a resolution to the present crisis that doesn't harm prospects for future peace," he told AFP.


© Agence France-Presse

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