Myanmar's military-led government extends state of emergency, forcing delay in promised election

National Defence and Security Council says the extension is for six months because time is needed to prepare for the elections


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Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing (centre left) chairman of State Administration Council, speaks with members of the National Defence and Security Council. — AP
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing (centre left) chairman of State Administration Council, speaks with members of the National Defence and Security Council. — AP

Published: Mon 31 Jul 2023, 6:46 PM

Myanmar’s military-controlled government has extended the state of emergency it imposed when the army seized power from an elected government 2.5 years ago, state-run media said on Monday, forcing a further delay in elections it promised when it took over.

MRTV television said the National Defence and Security Council met on Monday in the capital, Naypyitaw, and extended the state of emergency for another six months starting Tuesday because time is needed to prepare for the elections. The NDSC is nominally a constitutional government body, but in practice is controlled by the military.

The announcement amounted to an admission that the army does not exercise enough control to stage the polls and has failed to subdue widespread opposition to military rule, which includes increasingly challenging armed resistance as well as nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, despite the army having a huge advantage in manpower and weapons.

The state of emergency was declared when troops arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and top officials from her government and members of her National League for Democracy party on February 1, 2021. The takeover reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.

The military said it seized power because of fraud in the last general election held in November 2020, in which Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory while the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party did poorly. Independent election observers said they did not find any major irregularities.

The army takeover was met with widespread peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that UN experts have described as a civil war.

As of Monday, 3,857 people have been killed by the security forces since the takeover, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The army-enacted 2008 constitution allows the military to rule the country under a state of emergency for one year, with two possible six-month extensions if preparations are not yet completed for new polls, meaning that the time limit expired on Jan. 31 this year.

However, the NDSC allowed the military government to extend emergency rule for another six months in February, saying the country remained in an abnormal situation. The announcement on Monday is the fourth extension.

The state of emergency allows the military to assume all government functions, giving the head of the ruling military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, legislative, judicial and executive powers.

Nay Phone Latt, a spokesperson for the National Unity Government, an underground group that calls itself the country’s legitimate government and serves as an opposition umbrella group, said the extension of emergency rule was expected because the military government hasn't been able to annihilate the pro-democracy forces.

“The junta extended the state of emergency because the generals have a lust for power and don't want to lose it. As for the revolutionary groups, we will continue to try to speed up our current revolutionary activities,” Nay Phone Latt said in a message Monday.

The military government labels the NUG and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces, as “terrorists".

Monday's report did not specify when the polls might be held, saying only that they would occur after the goals of the state of emergency are accomplished.

According to the constitution, the military must transfer government functions to the president, who heads the NDSC, six months before the polls. That would mean Acting President Myint Swe, a retired general.

The military originally announced that new polls would be held a year after its takeover and later said they would take place in August 2023. But the extension of the emergency in February made that timing impossible.

The MRTV report said Myint Swe told members of the NDSC that the government needs to do more to achieve stability and the rule of law to prepare for the election.

Critics say the polls will be neither free nor fair under the military-controlled government, which has shut independent media and arrested most of the leaders of Suu Kyi’s party.

Her party was dissolved along with 39 other parties by the election commission in March for failing to re-apply under a political party registration law enacted by the military government early this year. The law makes it difficult for opposition groups to mount a serious challenge to army-backed candidates.

Suu Kyi, 78, is serving prison sentences totalling 33 years after being convicted in a series of politically tainted cases brought mostly by the military government.

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