Commander-in-chief says ‘constitution can be repealed’

The commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces said on Wednesday that the country’s 2008 constitution could go the way of previous charters “if the law is not abided by.”

Speaking via videoconference to senior instructors and military officers at the National Defense University, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing appeared to suggest that the military was prepared to seize power if necessary.

The remarks came a day after a military spokesperson said that a coup couldn’t be ruled out if allegations of vote-rigging in last year’s election are not adequately addressed.

When asked if the Tatmadaw would rule out taking over again, spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun replied: “We can’t. The military will act in line with all laws, including the constitution.”

According to the military’s True News Information Unit, Min Aung Hlaing reiterated the need to “respect and abide by” the constitution, which he called “the mother law,” but added: “As I said before, if the law is not abided by, it must be repealed.”

He noted that there were a number of precedents for this in Myanmar’s modern history.

“During the Revolutionary Council era, the 1947 constitution was repealed. When the State Law and Order Restoration Council came to power, the 1974 constitution was abolished,” he said.

In both cases, the scrapping of existing constitutions ushered in decades-long eras of often brutal military rule.

His remarks are likely to fuel fears that the military could once again use force to nullify the results of an election won by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), as it did in 2015 and 1990.

The current constitution was drafted by the military and designed to preserve the Tatmadaw’s preeminent position in Myanmar politics.

Under the 2008 constitution, the commander-in-chief, and not the president, controls all armed groups. The key ministries of defense, home affairs, and border affairs are all headed by serving military officers, and 25 percent of all seats in parliament are reserved for military appointees.

The constitution also has a provision that allows the military to assume power in a state of emergency, but only for a specified period of time, and only if it is declared by the president.

This last provision could explain why the commander-in-chief is now publicly contemplating the possibility of doing away with the constitution altogether.

The military has expressed growing dissatisfaction with the Union Election Commission (UEC) since before the country went to the polls on November 8, warning it in the run-up to the election to “be careful” to ensure that the vote was free and fair.

Post-election, it has stepped up its complaints, claiming at a press conference on Tuesday that it had documented more than 8.6 million voter list irregularities.

Calling the situation a “national crisis,” the military said it wanted answers from the president, parliament, and the UEC.

If it doesn’t receive them, the military has “answers” of its own, military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

The NLD responded that the matter should be resolved through legal channels.

“We welcome all actions in accordance with the law. We will also act in accordance with the law,” its spokesperson, Dr. Myo Nyunt, said.

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