The military elite is on a determined mission to retain power after the November 8 election in which its hopes are likely to be thwarted by the will of the people.
It is only about 10 days to the election. In most countries an election campaign is a contest by political parties to attract the votes of the people. In Myanmar it is more a struggle between present and former generals who have monopolised power for more than half a century and the National League for Democracy of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who enjoys majority support.
The generals and former generals who comprise the military elite want the election to ensure they maintain their grip on power while the NLD wants the ballot to pave the way for genuine change.
There is ample evidence about the mission of the military elite to maintain its hold on power. Shortly before the official campaign period began, about 50 senior military officers were retired so they could be drafted into the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. It may not have been an easy decision to allow 50 senior officers to resign from service simultaneously leaving only about five generals in the Tatmadaw, which has about 400,000 troops. The decision was made to accomplish a big mission: regain control over the USDP from ousted former chairman Thura U Shwe Mann, win the election and continue to rule the country.
Among the senior officers who were retired from the Tatmadaw to contest the election for the USDP is Lieutenant-General Myint Soe, who indicated in an interview with The Voice Daily that he was not happy about having to hang up his uniform.
“When I was asked to leave service to assume other responsibilities, I could not question the order. So I have to do my duty as best I can and accept it happily,” Lt-Gen Myint Soe said, adding that if asked if he really wanted to leave military service the answer would be in the negative.
The military elite is doing what it can to ensure it retains power. The generals are trying to win votes through the hardline Buddhist chauvinist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha. Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is touring military bases to meet Tatmadaw men and their families and urge them to vote for the USDP. The chairman of the Union Election Commission, U Tin Aye, is also helping in his own way.
It is obvious that the generals’ election mission is not succeeding and the reasons include their lack of experience in campaigning and in winning the support of the people.
An event held by Ma Ba Tha in Yangon on October 4 to celebrate the passage of the four so-called race and religion laws may not have gone as planned. Speakers at the event included one of the country’s most respected monks, the Venerable U Nyanissara, popularly known as the Sitagu Sayadaw.
Addressing an audience of tens of thousands of monks at Thuwanna Stadium, U Nyanissara warned members of the sangha, the community of monks, not to become involved in politics. After the speech, there were fewer verbal attacks by some monks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.
Meanwhile, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is touring military bases on a mission with an election objective. He is urging members of the Tatmadaw to vote for those who would work for the country, are well acquainted with political, administrative, economic and defence affairs, who uphold the three main causes, can protect race and religion and are not influenced by foreigners.
The Commander-in-Chief’s advice to Tatmadaw families implies they should vote for the USDP. We will have to wait until after the election to find out if his advice was heeded.
The mission of the generals depends heavily on the work of U Tin Aye and the UEC. After half a century of military rule the people are eager for change and if the election is free and fair the party established by the military elite has no chance of winning.
Whether the generals can accomplish their mission will depend on how the November 8 election is conducted.