Political Tensions Flare in Myanmar, Sparking Fears of a Coup
Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (Photographer: Koji Sashara/AP/Bloomberg)

Political Tensions Flare in Myanmar, Sparking Fears of a Coup

Myanmar is facing a deepening political crisis just days before its newly elected parliament is set to convene, amid rising tensions between the country’s powerful military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

Ever since Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the Nov. 8 poll, the military and its political factions have demanded authorities investigate its allegations of mass voting fraud. While the military’s commander-in-chief earlier this week floated the idea of revoking the constitution and a spokesman had further stoked fears by declining to rule out a coup, the force said on Saturday the comments had been misunderstood.

Appearing to soften its stance, the military released a statement saying it would act in accordance with the law.

Political Tensions Flare in Myanmar, Sparking Fears of a Coup

Myanmar’s election commission on Thursday labeled the vote -- only the second free general election after decades of military rule -- transparent and fair.

The U.S., United Nations and the European Union on Friday urged the military to respect the widely accepted results. “We oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition,” the joint statement from several diplomatic missions noted.

“The military is pushing these unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud not to contest or overturn the election outcome but to save face after losing an election,” said Dereck Aw, lead analyst for Myanmar at Control Risks. “They are using these allegations as leverage in crucial negotiations that are happening between the Tatmadaw and the NLD right now.”

Still, Suu Kyi’s party is pushing back. Myo Nyunt, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee said it was “inappropriate” for the military to continue pushing its claims after the elections results had been certified. “Whatever they do, it needs to be in line with existing laws.”

Political Tensions Flare in Myanmar, Sparking Fears of a Coup

Constitutional Crisis

Author Thant Myint-U, who wrote “The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century” noted in a tweet Thursday that Myanmar was “veering towards its most acute constitutional crisis since the abolition of the old junta in 2010.”

Among the military’s chief complaints are accusations of 8.6 million instances of voter fraud in the country of nearly 55 million people, spokesman brigadier general Zaw Min Tun said during a press conference on Tuesday. He also said the military has observed more than one million duplicate votes. “We cannot keep our mouths shut after we found out such strong evidence,” he said at the time.

The building crisis follows a rocky first five-year term in which the civilian government repeatedly clashed with the military for more power in a country that for nearly five decades was under junta rule before embarking on political reforms in 2010.

In addition to appealing to the election commission and the government to assure a fair election, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party and a former general, Soe Maung, have sought a Supreme Court hearing on the alleged irregularities. That hearing was due to take place on Friday, according to the court, while the parliament is set to convene Feb. 5.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation, demonstrate leadership, and to adhere to democratic norms,” in a statement released Thursday.

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