Is the NLD government acquiescing to the Tatmadaw?

Despite occasional tensions in its relationship with the Tatmadaw, the government is pressing ahead with its goals in the interests of the people and the nation.


THE NATION’S attention has been riveted recently on the fallout from Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein’s comments about the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief. In an angry response, the Tatmadaw said in a statement that Phyo Min Thein had damaged prospects for national reconciliation and for building a long-term relationship between the government and the Tatmadaw.

Phyo Min Thein subsequently sent a letter of apology to the Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Some are wondering if the Tatmadaw is too sensitive to comments about it by leading members of the National League for Democracy and if the NLD has to give in to every demand from the Tatmadaw. Is the NLD government acquiescing to the Tatmadaw? What is the state of the relationship between the government and the Tatmadaw?

Phyo Min Thein aroused the ire of the Tatmadaw when he gave the opening speech at a workshop on job creation for former political prisoners at the Sedona Hotel on July 9. The event was jointly sponsored by US Agency for International Development and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The chief minister said that although Myanmar had entered a democratic era and had a civilian administration, there was no civil-military relationship. “The military should be under civil administrative rule,” he said. “According to protocol, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is at the level of a director-general. But we have to deal with [the Commander-in-Chief] as head of state. This is not democracy at all.”

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Phyo Min Thein’s comments spread rapidly on the media and social media. The Tatmadaw was furious and issued its terse response. Phyo Min Thein sent a letter of apology to the Commander-in-Chief’s office several days later.

Before the apology, the NLD government disassociated itself from Phyo Min Thein’s comments. Government spokesman U Zaw Htay said Phyo Min Thein’s comments did not reflect the government’s position and “had caused misunderstanding between the government and the military”. The NLD’s central executive committee was also reported to have admonished the chief minister.

It was the second time since May that a senior member of the NLD had incurred the wrath of the Tatmadaw. On May 5, the Tatmadaw issued a statement condemning remarks made the previous day by ruling party spokesman U Win Htein about false news spread online that President U Htin Kyaw wanted to resign.

Win Htein said probable suspects in spreading the rumours included members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, “or some military organisations, or some IT experts who hate us”. The Tatmadaw statement said the “groundless” accusation had harmed its dignity and that it would make “the necessary responses”. Win Htein told reporters on May 8 after a meeting of the NLD CEC that his comments were a slip of the tongue and not intended as an accusation.

These incidents raise the questions about whether the Tatmadaw is too sensitive and whether the NLD is giving in to every demand from the powerful institution.

After the NLD took office following the 2015 election there were strains in its relationship with the Tatmadaw, which stands as a kind of separate entity in the body politic. The NLD government did not accede to requests from the Tatmadaw to choose the chief ministers of Yangon Region and Shan, Rakhine and Kachin states. The Tatmadaw was also angered when Thura U Shwe Mann, who was loathed by many within the military for allowing a debate on constitutional reform when he was Hluttaw speaker, was appointed by the NLD to head the parliamentary Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues.

There was more fury in the Tatmadaw’s ranks when the NLD used its dominance of the national assembly, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, to create the position of state counsellor for Daw Aung San Kyi in early April 2016. Military MPs boycotted the vote and one later told journalists it amounted to “bullying by the democratic majority”.

The NLD government has been in power for nearly 16 months. In implementing economic policy and the peace process, handling the Rakhine crisis and moving against the hardline Buddhist nationalist group known as Ma Ba Tha, the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi is courageously acting in the interests of the people and the nation, regardless of the attitude of Tatmadaw leaders. Except for some issues on which it works together with the Tatmadaw, the government is implementing its own policies in all areas of nationbuilding.

In the relationship between the government and the military, the NLD is not acquiescing to the Tatmadaw; as much as the 2008 Constitution allows, the NLD is working courageously for the good of the country.

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