Burmese Junta Leader Declares Himself Prime Minister, Further Delays Elections
08/02/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – Speaking to the world via a recorded address broadcast on state television, Myanmar’s junta leader declared himself prime minister and announced that free elections would be delayed by about eighteen months to August 2023 from the original target of February 2022. General Min Aung Hlaing’s new role as prime minister further consolidates his power over a system that he already tightly controlled, first as leader of the military, or Tatmadaw, since 2011 and as de fact leader since the coup in February.
When the Tatmadaw’s overthrew the democratically elected civilian government on February 1, 2020 it promised that it would hold elections within a year. Now, six months later, Min Aung Hlaing claims that the conditions are not right for democratic elections. “We have to make preparations,” he said in his address on Sunday. “We must create conditions to hold a free and fair multiparty general election.”
Up to now, Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw have focused most of their attention on suppressing dissent and strengthening their grip on power. The military has killed over nine hundred civilians and jailed almost seven thousand more, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners a watchdog group.
The Tatmadaw has a long history of violence against the people of Myanmar, including against Christian and Muslim religious minorities. ICC recently published a report detailing several of these minority groups and proposing actions that the international community can take to push back against the Tatmadaw.
The international community has been united in its condemnation of the Tatmadaw. Several rounds of sanctions, coordinated by governments around the world, may have made some difference. Still, the Tatmadaw has already been heavily sanctioned for years for human rights abuses stretching back decades. Earlier this year it even mocked the new layers of sanctions, calling them ineffective and suggesting that the new sanctions were more symbolic than effective. In this the Tatmadaw may have been correct, especially given its support from large actors in the region.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed, without evidence, that sanctioning the Tatmadaw “pushes the people of Myanmar towards a full-scale civil conflict.” Russia sells arms to the Tatmadaw, which spends over $2 billion USD despite not being engaged in foreign wars—its military actions target its own citizens, many based on their ethnic or religious identity.
China and Japan have also given support to the Tatmadaw. China vetoed a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup in a show of support for its longtime ally and economic partner. For its part, Japan has seemed hesitant to join the international community in its strong condemnation of the coup, and not only has a close relationship with the Burmese military but has a long history of monetary support for the country as well.
The international community must consider how it can effect real change in Myanmar and what it can do to prevent countries like Russia, China, and Japan from softening the impact of the international community’s attempts to pressure the Tatmadaw. Myanmar’s pro-democracy protestors and religious minorities alike need the concerted support of the international community.
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