‘Young’ Myanmar Still Needs Strong Military Role, Says Army Chief

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‘Young’ Myanmar Still Needs Strong Military Role, Says Army Chief

Comments reinforce worries that reduced military control is unlikely anytime soon.

Myanmar is not ready for a reduced military role in parliament, its military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview published January 20.

The country’s constitution, under section 436, currently mandates 25 percent military representation in parliament. That, along with a 75 percent majority requirement for any constitutional amendments to be approved, essentially gives the military a veto in the legislature. The opposition National League for Democracy, led by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as international observers have been calling for constitutional changes ahead of Myanmar’s general election in the last quarter of 2015.

But the comments by Min Aung Hlaing, the powerful commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces and a potential presidential contender, reinforce existing doubts among some that the army will loosen its hold on the country anytime soon.

“It’s been only about four years. We are still a young democracy. When we are moving towards a multi-party democratic system it needs to be a strong system,” Min Aung Hlaing told the Singapore-based news agency.

He also poured cold water on the idea that section 436 may be amended in the immediate future.

“It will depend a lot on the country’s unity, its peace and stability. To specify an exact time is difficult,” he said.

Asked about the prospects for a nationwide ceasefire between the government and the various ethnic armed groups in the country, the military chief seemed to suggest that the groups may not be fully committed to end the country’s civil war.

“This depends on the armed ethic groups. Do they really want peace?…We cannot keep arguing. Disputes hinder the country’s development,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 59-year old military chief, whose name has been floated as a presidential candidate as he approaches the retirement age of 60, refused to rule out an entry into politics in the future.

“About becoming president, I will decide, depending on the situation of the times. If I turn my attention to (politics) now, it is likely to weaken the job I’m doing. Right now it is too early to make a decision and talk about it,” he said.

Myanmar was ruled by the military for half a century but has been undergoing reform since a nominally civilian government led by President Thein Sein was installed in March 2011.