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  • Writer's pictureLARRY JAGAN


Published in the Bangkok Post Opinion on 01.02.2021

Behind the scenes efforts are continuing to break Myanmar's political deadlock that threatens the country's democratic transition. Talks between the military and the government started a few days ago -- as tensions on the ground rose and rumours of a military coup grew -- but failed to make any real progress, according to both government and military sources.

The leaders of the two sides -- the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met yesterday for extensive discussions on how to resolve their stand-off.

As yet there is no indication of how these talks went, though Ms Suu Kyi was proving to be more flexible than expected, according to a military source.

Over the last few days, Myanmar has been rocked by increased insecurity and uncertainty as the military and the civilian government locked horns over the country's political future. The recent national elections are at the centre of the conflict: although the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won convincingly, the result is disputed by the military and its political allies, who allege that the vote was rigged.

There is no doubt the electoral process -- especially the voter lists -- was significantly flawed although local and international monitors agreed the election was poorly run they believe the outcome was legitimate.

The military is alleging they have evidence of over 10 million cases of voter irregularities and fraud in November's polls, and is demanding the election commission release the electoral roll for cross-checking.

The military has repeatedly insisted since the polls that the Union Election Commission -- the body that oversees the elections -- be dissolved, the voter lists checked jointly by the military and the UEC and delaying the start of the new parliament -- scheduled to begin today -- until the issues around the election are resolved.

On Friday two parties aligned with the military -- the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Democratic Party for National Politics (DPNP) -- applied to the Supreme Court for writs against the UEC on the basis of their evidence of election fraud.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a verdict and has two weeks in which to do so. That eased a possible flashpoint, but Lower House opening today may provide another litmus test of whether the two sides are able to find an interim solution.

Tensions in the country's two main cities have been heightened by the events this week. Since the middle of last week, there have been substantial troop movements in the capital Naypyidaw and the main commercial city Yangon. Tanks and armoured vehicles have been patrolling both cities. Routes out of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw have been blocked off at times.

Both cities have witnessed large, noisy demonstrations of the military parties' political supporters, especially the USDP. These have often erupted into heated and violent skirmishes, as emotions are running high.

The NLD though has strategically called on it is members and followers to remain calm and resist public displays of support.

The passions of the crowd were also inflamed by an inappropriate and ill-timed statement by members of the Western diplomatic community on Friday calling for the election result to be respected and parliament to convene on time.

This played into the opposition's hands and reinforced their claim that Ms Suu Kyi is simply a puppet of the West. This became a major focus of the protesters in Yangon on the weekend aimed against foreign interference.

Before Friday's court hearing Myanmar seemed to be heading irreversibly into a major confrontation between the government and the military. Belligerent posturing by both sides in the past week has fueled the tensions as the country careered down the path to a significant political confrontation.

The military seemed to be deliberately fuelling the flames with comments that seem to suggest that a coup was imminent and the military -- the official custodians of the constitution -- were prepared to abolish the 2008 charter as no-one was respecting or following it. On the eve of the Supreme Court hearing into the matter, the UEC issued a statement essentially saying the allegations of fraud were far-fetched and only it had the authority to decide the election result and complaints.

It also said it stood steadfastly by the results already announced. This is largely the issue being contested in the legal proceedings presented to the court.

But tension eased temporarily when the army clarified its position on a possible coup and tearing up the constitution. It categorically denied the coup rumours, asserting they would always act according to the law and the constitution.

Military sources have told the Bangkok Post that a coup was never a realistic option and the army wanted to avoid it at all cost -- it may be resorted to but only as a very last resort.

More importantly, the three days of talks -- at times heated, according to sources -- began to produce tangible results. It was agreed that the UEC and the military would begin reviewing the voter lists immediately.

But that may not be enough to avert the looming conflict as perhaps the most important sticking point between the two sides is the issue of the parliament.

The military and its political allies insist the new parliament cannot convene while the issue of the elections remains unresolved.

All hopes now rest with Ms Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing being able to agree on a way forward. Larry Jagan is a specialist on Myanmar and a former BBC World Service News editor for the region.

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