Myanmar military ruler pledges elections, end of state of emergency by August 2023

Padaung woman in Inle Lake, Shan State. (Douglas Long/The Myanmar Times). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

YANGON, Aug 1, 2021, Reuters, AFP. Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday (Aug 1) vowed to lift a state of emergency by August 2023 and again promised new multi-party elections, saying that his government is ready to work with any special envoy named by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), The Straits Times reported.

He spoke in a televised address six months after the army seized power from a civilian government after disputed elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, which he called “extremists” and accused of inciting violence.

“I pledge to hold multiparty elections without fail,” he added.

“Myanmar is ready to work on Asean cooperation within the Asean framework including the dialogue with the Asean Special Envoy in Myanmar,” Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said.

He also repeated a pledge to restore democracy.

“I guarantee the establishment of a union based on democracy and federalism,” he said.

He added: “We will accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023.”

The army seized power on Feb 1 from the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argues were tainted by fraud. It has said its takeover was in line with the constitution.

The country’s electoral commission has dismissed the fraud allegations.

The general’s announcement would place Myanmar in the military’s grip for nearly two and a half years – instead of the initial one-year timeline the army announced days after the coup.

The State Administration Council – as the junta calls itself – also announced in a separate statement that Min Aung Hlaing had been appointed as the prime minister of the “caretaker government”.

Foreign ministers from members of Asean are under pressure to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar this week after months of negotiations have failed to find a consensus candidate.

Six months after the military toppled Myanmar’s democratically elected government, Asean foreign ministers will meet on Monday (Aug 2), when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

The United Nations, China and the United States, among others, have identified the South-east Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to lead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup.

Since the coup, military authorities have faced protests, strikes that have paralysed public and private sectors, and a resurgence of armed conflicts in the borderlands. The military authorities have branded their opponents terrorists.

A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed the country’s health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.

“At present, the whole country is stable except for some terrorist attacks,” Mr Min Aung Hlaing said in his speech.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group has accused the armed forces of killing 939 people in suppressing dissent since the coup and said at least 6,990 military opponents have been arrested.

The military said the number of protesters killed is far lower and members of the armed forces have also died in violence. It said its response has met international norms in the face of threats to national security.

The search for a special envoy began in April, when Asean leaders produced a “five-point consensus” to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar.

The UN and the US have both urged Asean to expedite appointment of the special envoy in recent weeks.

The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Mr Erywan Yusof, said last Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday. Brunei chairs Asean this year.

“Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult” to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.

Asean has been deeply divided on the envoy, and discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.

Four regional diplomatic sources said Mr Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by “advisers”. But a meeting of senior Asean officials last Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.

As well as the nine other Asean members, Myanmar’s military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s National Unity Government which opposes the military junta, said the envoy must “put the people of Myanmar front and centre”.

“Anything that can help alleviate the people’s suffering is welcome,” said Dr Sasa, who goes by one name.

Mr Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates.

Diplomats said the others were Thailand’s deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

Asean will also announce a proposal to provide aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said.

“In the six months since the coup, the people of Myanmar have demonstrated remarkable courage and conviction in the face of widespread violence,” said the US embassy in Myanmar on its official Facebook page Sunday.

“The United States remains firmly committed to supporting the people of Myanmar in their aspirations for a democratic, inclusive future of their own choosing.”

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