Myanmar president warns of Arab Spring-style violence if ruling party loses power

Supporters of Myanmar's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) dancing during a campaign rally in Mawbi on Nov 3, 2015.
Supporters of Myanmar's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) dancing during a campaign rally in Mawbi on Nov 3, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - A video posted on the Facebook page of Myanmar's president, raising the spectre of bloodshed and chaos akin to the Arab Spring aftermath if the ruling party loses power in Sunday's polls, has drawn an angry response on social media.

The tightly edited four-minute feature was posted on the page of President Thein Sein, days before the country heads to the polls in landmark elections which are expected to see the opposition make major gains.

The video juxtaposes scenes of recent violence in the Middle East with shots of seeming tranquility and development in Myanmar during its transition towards democracy, backed by a heavy metal soundtrack.

It ends with the words: "Only when peace prevails will democratisation be implemented."

"It was about the transformation of Myanmar into a democratic country," Zaw Htay, director of the president's office, told AFP.

Thein Sein, a former general, and the ruling army-backed USDP party have positioned themselves as the guarantors of Myanmar's stable progress as it shakes off decades of junta rule.

Unlike countries that suffered "blood streams, explosions, violent protests", Myanmar has remained stable, Zaw Htay said, since the army handed power to a quasi-civilian reformist government in 2011.

"Compared to those countries, we all know that our country developed step by step," he added.

"We can't become like America or Singapore right away, we have to wait."

Religious violence has left hundreds dead in Myanmar since 2012, while several insurgencies continue to burn in the borderlands.

Many local social media users accused the president's office of hypocrisy.

For decades Myanmar's military ruled the country with an iron fist, crushing dissent and fixing - or simply ignoring - elections. Thein Sein rose to the highest echelons of the junta before trading in his uniform for civilian politics.

Human rights groups accuse the military of regular abuses in their fight against ethnic minority rebels. Others, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have voiced fears the government is backsliding on reforms.

"Taking students to prison while they were protesting in Letpadan for our people's education system, was that a peaceful way of transforming to democracy?" wrote Thet Ko Ko under the Facebook video on the president's page - a reference to the recent arrest and trial of student protesters.

"The beautiful Kachin is now left with piles of waste soil... peaceful way huh?" wrote user Pharsi Myae, a reference to military-controlled mining operations in the northern state of Kachin, which has been blighted by decades of war.