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Myanmar Military Coup Talk Draws Concern from Western Embassies

Military supporters wave Myanmar national flags during a protest to demand an inquiry to investigate the Union Election Commission (UEC) in Yangon on Jan. 29, 2021, as fears swirl about a possible coup by the military over electoral fraud concerns.
Military supporters wave Myanmar national flags during a protest to demand an inquiry to investigate the Union Election Commission (UEC) in Yangon on Jan. 29, 2021, as fears swirl about a possible coup by the military over electoral fraud concerns.

Alarmed after a string of veiled threats of a coup by Myanmar’s military over unproven claims of voting fraud in the nascent democracy, more than a dozen Western diplomatic missions called on the army and other parties to reject attempts to alter the outcome of the 2020 elections.

Intervention by the military is troubling to many in Myanmar, which endured brutal, corrupt military rule and international pariah status from 1962-2011, when it began a transition to democratic rule.

The rare group diplomatic statement came as tensions mount before the Feb. 1 opening of Myanmar’s parliament, which was elected in the Nov. 8 election that the army is calling fraudulent. Military vehicles and troops were seen around the capital this week.

“We urge the military, and all other parties in the country to adhere to democratic norms, and we oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition,” said the statement from the embassies of Australia, 12 European countries, the EU diplomatic mission to Myanmar, New Zealand, and the United States.

A day earlier, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed “great concern” over the military’s words and urged all parties to desist from any form of incitement, adhere to democratic norms, and respect the election outcome.

RFA could not reach diplomats at the Chinese Embassy in Yangon for comment on the issue. As Myanmar’s largest investor and trade partner, China has significant influence in the country.

Earlier this week, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing broached the topic of a possible coup and the abolishment of the constitution amid rising political tensions over the electoral dispute.

The 2008 constitution allows the military chief to assume and exercise state sovereignty with the permission of the president during states of emergency that could cause the disintegration of the union. It does not condone military coups, however.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the Nov. 8 elections by a landslide, and the 75-year-old leader is set to launch her second five-year term in late March.

The army and its political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, have contended for weeks that there was widespread voter fraud and have increased pressure on the Union Election Commission to investigate. Neither the military nor the USDP have submitted any evidence of actual voter fraud.

In response to talk about a coup, the UEC issued a statement on Thursday insisting that elections were devoid of fraud as alleged by the military, despite some voter list errors which it said it would investigate.

‘Trapped in their own words’

Meanwhile, local media reports in Naypyidaw said two high-ranking military officers met with NLD government officials over the dispute but that the meeting was unsuccessful, and the ruling party rejected the military’s demand to delay the Feb. 1 opening of the new parliament.

NLD spokesperson Monywa Aung Shin said he could not confirm the news about the meeting. RFA was also unable to confirm the reports.

“We have seen the EU and U.S. show support for the election result and object to the attempts to derail it, so I think we will be able to find solution to this crisis,” he said.

Myanmar military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun could not be reached for comment.

Mya Aye, a former pro-democracy student activist and political prisoner who is now a leading member of the Federal Democratic Force party, said the military has dug itself into a hole with talk of a coup as a worst-case scenario in resolving the impasse.

“Officials from military have stated the worst-case scenario, and they are trapped in their own words,” he said. “The ruling government has no easy way out of this problem. Both of them are caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Other politicians had mixed views about whether the military would follow through on its threat of a coup.

“The ongoing situation in Myanmar is not dire enough to justify a military coup,” said Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society. “I also think the chance that the military will actually stage a coup is low.”

“It’s not good for the country because the crisis has gotten worse, although it could have been settled between the military and government much earlier,” he said.

Ye Naing Aung, secretary of the People’s Party, said attempts at a coup would reverse the progress Myanmar has made with its democratic transition since 2011.

“We absolutely object to a military coup or any attempts that will set back the democratic transition,” he said. “The ongoing crisis is centered on the 2008 constitution. All the concerned parties need to work together for the sake of country and the citizens to find a solution.”

The military dictatorship following a 1962 coup by General Ne Win abolished the 1947 constitution, while another military regime abolished the 1974 constitution after a coup d’état in 1988.

Protest in Naypyidaw

Also on Friday, the Myanmar Supreme Court began a preliminary hearing of an election-related petition filed in early January by the opposition USDP and the Democratic Party of National Politics accusing the government and national election authorities of electoral fraud.

UEC chairman Hla Thein and 14 other committee members are named in the Application of Writ. The judges who presided over the hearing said they would decide whether to accept the case in two weeks, said USDP spokesperson Nandar Hla Myint.

An attorney for the USDP gave opening arguments via videoconference on why the party applied for a writ for the nation’s highest court to begin a case, Nandar Hla Myint said.

“If they don’t reject it, then they will continue the hearing with cross-examinations and arguments from attorneys on both sides,” he said.

Mandalay attorney Zaw Weik also filed a similar document with the Supreme Court to question Myanmar’s president, state counselor, and military chief for the same reasons. It was unclear whether the court held a preliminary hearing on Friday to consider the petition.

While the hearing was in progress, hundreds of USDP supporters marched through the streets near the Supreme Court in a show of protest against the election results amid heightened security near the court and on streets around Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw.

Supporters rode on 60 vehicles from the USDP’s office in Ottarathiri township to the court building.

Heavy security blocked entry to a guest house in the capital where lawmakers from the NLD and various ethnic political parties are staying as they wait for new parliamentary sessions to begin.

“As far as I know, they assigned more policemen to our residence for both security and health reasons,” said NLD lawmaker Aung Kyi Nyunt.

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