Myanmar’s powerful army chief has vowed to respect the outcome of November’s landmark elections and has not ruled out becoming president if asked to take the top post.
“Whoever wins I will respect the result if they win fairly,” Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told the BBC in a rare interview with a Western news outlet released on Monday July 20. “I believe the elections will be free and fair. That is our true wish. We are committed to helping make that happen, anyway we can,” he added.
Some 30 million voters are expected to head to the polls on November 8 for what is expected to be the freest election in decades.
Myanmar was managed for five decades by military junta which repressed the opposition and turned Myanmar into one of the poorest countries in the world, before it installed a quasi civilian government in 2011 that started a reform program under its President U Thein Sein.
The November polls will be the first general election in a quarter of a century to be contested by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which is expected to make huge gains at the ballot box if the vote is free and fair.
It will also give the international community a chance to judge the country’s democratic progress.
But the army will continue to wield significant political influence even if the opposition sweep the polls because 25 percent of seats in the country’s parliament will continue to be reserved for the military. The army block in parliament virtually guarantees its veto over proposed changes to the constitution.
Observers say the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as the protector of the Myanmar constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Suu Kyi under lock and key for some 15 years.
The NLD has vowed to change the charter to reduce the army’s role and overturn a provision which currently bans Suu Kyi from becoming president because she has foreign born children.
In his interview, the general said he was open to changing some parts of the constitution, but said others had to remain in place because of ongoing fighting with ethnic rebel groups.
“It is impossible to leave people with all these problems, without real security,” he said of on-going efforts to end decades of civil war.
Myanmar’s long-running peace process between the government, army and multiple rebel groups has foundered in recent months following the signing of a draft ceasefire deal in March.
Asked whether he had plans to seek the presidency, Min Aung Hlaing insisted he would remain as army chief until his retirement next year. But he also did not rule out accepting the top post.
“If needed we have to be prepared to serve the country in any role, this is part of our national politics,” he said. “If people ask me to do this duty, I will decide then.”
For the time being it remains unclear who will be the ruling elite’s candidate for the top post, with both U Thein Sein and parliament speaker U Shwe Mann not out of the race yet.