Min Aung Hlaing says no Myanmar elections until 2023

Six months after seizing power, coup leader declares himself prime minister and adds more than a year to election timeline.

Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing initially promised there would be elections in a year [File: Stringer/Reuters]

Myanmar’s military ruler has promised multi-party elections and the lifting of the state of emergency by August 2023, extending an initial timeline given when he deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government earlier this year.

The general’s announcement in a televised address on Sunday, six months after the February 1 coup, would place Myanmar under military control for nearly two and a half years – instead of the initial one-year timeline the army announced days after its power grab.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with the military facing protests and strikes that have paralysed the administration and economy. Security forces have killed more than 900 people in a crackdown on anti-coup protests and dissent, according to a local monitoring group, and there has been a resurgence of armed conflicts in the borderlands.

The country is also battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, with many hospitals empty of medical staff amid the targeting of doctors and nurses who had spearheaded a civil disobedience movement that urged professionals and civil servants not to cooperate with the military.

In his speech, Min Aung Hlaing said the military authorities “must create conditions to hold a free and fair multiparty general election”.

“We have to make preparations,” he said. “I pledge to hold the multiparty general election without fail.” The military would “accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023”, he added.

Also on Sunday, state media reported Min Aung Hlaing had taken the role of prime minister in a newly formed caretaker government, which will replace the State Administration Council the generals set up shortly after seizing power.

“In order to perform the country’s duties fast, easily and effectively, the state administration council has been re-formed as caretaker government of Myanmar,” a newsreader on state Myawaddy television said.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand, said the powers the military has granted itself under the state of emergency have allowed it to annul the results of the November election that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide. The military justified its actions by claiming the vote was fraudulent, but has not provided any evidence. The election commission said the vote was free and fair.

“If fresh elections take place under these conditions, they are not going to be seen by anybody as free or fair,” Cheng said.

Noting continued resistance to the military’s rule across Myanmar, Cheng added: “From the very onset, there have been strong objections on the street, from people all across the country. We’ve also seen splintering of much of Myanmar’s society, with a lot of people joining up to a civil disobedience movement, which has rendered the banking system, the healthcare and transport systems completely ineffective.

“That’s particularly significant now as COVID-19’s fourth wave has just swept across Myanmar. This has put a lot of pressure on the military to be seen to be doing something.”

‘Crimes against humanity’

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says the military has committed numerous abuses against civilians and crimes against humanity since the coup.

“We’ve seen widespread crackdowns all over the country that appear coordinated and systematic,” Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera. “Essentially, we’ve seen constant attack on the civilian population that warrants investigation.”

The military is also facing growing international censure, with the UN General Assembly in June urging member states to “prevent the flow of arms” into Myanmar.

“We need to see more enhanced and targeted sanctions that are unified and coordinated,” Manny Maung said. “That means cutting off things like military access to revenue flows and money that comes out of extractive industries, especially the gas revenues,” she added, calling for the UN Security Council to a pass resolution to formally impose an arms embargo.

“We want to see states being prevented from selling any more weapons that the military can then use on its own population.”

Supplies of medical oxygen are running low amid a surge in COVID infections, and the government has put restrictions on its private sale in many places, saying it is trying to prevent hoarding [File: AP]

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional organisation, which is leading diplomatic efforts to tackle the crisis in Myanmar, agreed on a Five Point Consensus with Min Aung Hlaing in April, which calls for an end to the violence in the country, the start of a dialogue between all parties, greater humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas as well as the appointment of a special envoy.

World powers including Russia, China and the United States have backed the plan, though the military has shown no intention of following through on it.

But Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday pledged to cooperate with ASEAN, saying, “Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework including the dialogue with the ASEAN Special Envoy in Myanmar”.

The group’s foreign ministers will hold a series of meetings from Monday, and diplomats say they aim to finalise the appointment of a special envoy who will be tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the military and its opponents.

In Myanmar on Sunday, small groups of demonstrators marched to mark the passage of six months since the coup, with protesters in the northern town of Kale holding banners that read “strength for the revolution” and people in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, letting off flares at a march.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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