Myanmar coup: Juntas’ timeline to return to democracy?
Myanmar Military ousted the NLD government on February 1, 2021. The purpose of the military takeover of the civilian government was to 'correct election frauds alleged by the military backed political parties specially Union Solidarity and Development Party (SDP)'. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the military coup, committed the country's return to democracy in one year time through a 'fair and credible election' under the military government. The commitment is not different from his predecessors - General Ne Win, General Saw Maung and General Than Shwe.
General Ne Win ruled the Myanmar from 1962 under the banner of Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) until he was deposed by Gen Saw Maung's military regime following the popular uprising beginning on August 8, 1988. The uprising is popularly known as '8888 uprising'. Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the iconic leader and hope for democracy in Myanmar.
General Saw Maung seized state power from General Ne Win on September 18, 1988 and formed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). He promised to hold multi-party elections and hand over power to the party winning people's mandate. He also promised to have the army returned to the barracks where they "rightfully belonged". Hardliners in the military and Ne Win loyalist did not like his political promises.
SLORC held multi party general election in 1990. Suu Kyi's party, National League for Democracy (NLD) came out victorious while military backed National Unity Party (NUP) had fourth position with ten seats. SLORC rejected the election result and continued with the military rule. Military regime put Suu Kyi under house arrest until her release ahead of the general election held in 2010.
On 23 April 1992, Senior General Saw Maung, the Chairman of SLORC resigned from the post of Chairman ostensibly for health reasons but presumably quiet military coup at the backdoor. His deputy, General Than Shwe took over as head of the SLORC and Commander-in-Chief (CC) of the Myanmar Armed Forces. SLORC ruled Myanmar from 1988 to 1997. Unlike Saw Maung, General Than Shwe did not commit any time to hold election but declared seven steps of "Roadmap to Discipline-flourishing Democracy" in 2003.
General Than Shwe abolished SLORC in 1997 and formed eleven member State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).The council was officially dissolved on 30 March 2011, with the formation of an elected government headed by retired General U Thein Sein. NLD did not participate in the general election held in 2010.
Before holding the general election, the SPDC as part of the third phase of the road map, drafted the third constitution of Myanmar to replace the constitution enacted in 1974. The Third Constitution passed the referendum held on May 10, 2008. Military welcomed the constitution as return to democracy but the political parties viewed it as a tool for continuing military control of the country. Opposition viewed it as a tool for continued military influence in national politics.
Taking into cognizance of the complaints lodged with the CC by the military backed political parties especially the USDP, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing intervened to remedy the election grievance of the opposition parties. After ousting the NLD government and dissolving the UEC, the CC formed a fifteen member State Administration Council (SAC) on February 2, 2021 and the CC became the Chairman of the Council. Ten of the fifteen members are senior military generals and five are from NLD's opposition political parties. SAC on 11 February, 2021 formed State and Region Administration Councils and their leaders for Myanmar's 14 states and regions and also appointed military administrators in the country's Self-Administered Zones. CC elevated the retired Lt General U Myint Swe, the military appointed Vice President (2011-2020) to acting Presidency after the coup d'état on 1 February, 2021. Acting President transferred state power to the CC.
Myanmar military in its first press conference guaranteed to hold election without any time frame and hand over power to the winner. Before holding the election, the junta will certainly correct 'fault lines in the electoral process' that provided NLD land slide victory in 1990 and back-to-back absolute majority in 2015 and 2020 elections. Military crafted constitution barred Suu Kyi from taking the office of the President.
Early symptoms of "walkie-talkie case" and some sorts of criminal charges against leaderships could be attempted to bar them from filing candidature in future election(s) and the junta is likely to trim down or weed the NLD's leadership hierarchy. The military does not have any representation in the UEC. To mend this 'fault line' and to oversee or to ensure that the UEC does things right in future elections, the SAC could insert strong of body of 'military contingent' in the UEC.
Historically, military juntas assure to return democracy but they cannot keep their promises. A good length of time is spent in silencing the people rising against the junta. Time is also spent in crafting ways and means for safe exit while securing the future. Time also extends with junta's change of mind to stay in power for longer period. Last but not the least, historically juntas actually do not know themselves when they will let the country to return to democracy.
Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a retired Commodore of Bangladesh Navy