Myanmar army chief vows to respect polls outcome

General does not rule out accepting top post when asked by BBC if he has plans to seek presidency

YANGON • Myanmar's powerful army chief has vowed to respect the outcome of November's landmark elections and has not ruled out becoming president if asked to take the top post.

"Whoever wins, I will respect the result if they win fairly," General Min Aung Hlaing told the BBC in a rare interview with a Western news outlet.

"I believe the elections will be free and fair. That is our true wish. We are committed to helping make that happen, anyway we can," he added in the interview that was released yesterday.

Some 30 million voters are expected to head to the polls on Nov 8 for what is expected to be the freest election in decades.

Myanmar's last nationwide election in 2010 was widely seen as rigged. A quasi-reformist civilian government - dominated by former generals - came to power in 2011, ending 49 years of direct military rule.

WISHING FOR FAIR POLLS

Whoever wins, I will respect the result if they win fairly. I believe the elections will be free and fair. That is our true wish.

GENERAL MIN AUNG HLAING, on November's landmark elections

The November polls will be the first general election in a quarter of a century to be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which is expected to make huge gains at the ballot box if the vote is free and fair.

It will also give the international community a chance to judge the country's democratic progress.

But the army will continue to wield significant political influence even if the opposition sweeps the polls because 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament will continue to be reserved for the military.

Observers say the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as the protector of the Constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Ms Suu Kyi under lock and key for 15 years.

The NLD has vowed to change the Charter to reduce the army's role and overturn a provision which currently bans Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president because she has foreign-born children.

In his interview, the general stated that he was open to changing some parts of the Constitution, but said others had to remain in place because of ongoing fighting with ethnic rebel groups.

"It is impossible to leave people with all these problems, without real security," he said of ongoing efforts to end decades of civil war.

He also maintained the military's line that it was still too early for the armed forces to step back from the political arena. He cited concerns over instability caused by the fighting with ethnic groups and Myanmar's need to transition to democracy in a "disciplined" manner as reasons for the military's continued role in politics.

Myanmar's long-running peace process between the government, army and multiple rebel groups has stalled in recent months following the signing of a draft ceasefire agreement in March this year.

Asked whether he had plans to seek the presidency, Gen Min Aung Hlaing insisted he would remain as army chief until his retirement next year. But he also did not rule out accepting the top post.

"If needed we have to be prepared to serve the country in any role, this is part of our national politics," he said. "If people ask me to do this duty, I will decide then."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar army chief vows to respect polls outcome'. Print Edition | Subscribe