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Myanmar military refuses to rule out coup as it presses claim of fraud in Nov. election

Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun speaks at the military press conference in Naypyitaw on Jan. 26

Myanmar’s military refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup when asked how it intended to proceed after making several claims of fraud in relation to the November general election, which delivered a mandate to the National League for Democracy (NLD) to continue governing the country for a second term.

The military (or Tatmadaw) publicly claimed to have found 8.6 million irregularities that could have led to opportunities to vote “more than once” or “voting malpractice” in its scrutiny of voter lists in 314 townships in all states and regions. However, it has yet to produce on-the-ground evidence proving that voter fraud actually occurred on election day.

When asked what the Tatmadaw’s next step would be after publicly claiming mass electoral fraud—which was widely seen as a joint move together with its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to discredit the NLD’s landslide victory—military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun said at a press conference on Tuesday that the military would continue its effort using all means at its disposal in compliance with the Constitution and existing laws.

However, when a reporter asked the spokesperson to clarify whether the vow to comply with the law meant that the military had no plan to seize power, the spokesperson immediately replied, “No.”

“No. The military will abide by existing laws including the Constitution,” Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said. “But that doesn’t mean the military will take responsibility for the state or won’t take responsibility for the state,” he continued.

During the press conference, the atmosphere grew tense as reporters and the military spokesperson went back and forth on the same question, with the reporters pressing for a clearer picture of the intention behind the ongoing assertions of fraud by the military and its proxy party, and asking what the military actually means when it says it will take action, in line with the Constitution and existing law, on “unfair and dishonest practices in the vote”.

Notably, the military spokesman chose to open the press conference by recounting the legacy of the 1988 military coup, before going on to defend the Tatmadaw’s interference in the country’s elections as necessary to ensure that the process of moving toward democracy introduced by the military was not derailed.

Article 40(c) of the Constitution grants sovereign power to the commander-in-chief during a state of emergency that could lead to the disintegration of the country or cause a loss of sovereign power, or in the face of attempts to take power through force, including an insurgency or other forms of violence. Critics say the article hands the military chief the power to stage a coup. However, under the Constitution, only the president can declare a state of emergency after consulting and coordinating with the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council (NDSC).

In response to the military and its proxy party’s attempts to discredit the outcome of the election, NLD vice chairman U Zaw Myint Maung said on Sunday that “We have nothing to say to them [the military and USDP]. It is our duty, as the winning party, to convene the newly elected Parliament in time, as per the election laws and Constitution.”

When only a few days left before the newly elected Parliament convenes, the military has also called on the government, the Union Election Commission (UEC) or outgoing parliamentarians to prove that the November general election was free and fair so that it can accept the result.

Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said at Tuesday’s press conference that the Tatmadaw would forward its findings of irregularities to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will hear from two military-linked political parties through video conferencing on Friday before deciding whether to approve their requests that the court issue writs against the President and Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman on grounds of electoral misconduct.

Of the 314 township voter lists scrutinized by the military, only 40 were the UEC’s final voter lists, according to the military spokesman. The remaining 274 were first- or second-draft lists rolled out by the UEC to the public for checking so that it could make any necessary corrections and fixes ahead of the poll.