Myanmar military allays coup fears, says it will protect Constitution

Myanmar's military said it would protect and abide by the country's constitution and act according to law.
Myanmar's military said it would protect and abide by the country's constitution and act according to law.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's military on Saturday (Jan 30) said it would protect and abide by the country's Constitution and act according to law, in a move that could allay concerns in the country that the armed forces might attempt to seize power.

The statement comes a day after United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Western embassies in Myanmar expressed serious concerns about the possibility of army intervention in Myanmar, a country ruled by the military for 49 years after a 1962 coup. 

The military, known locally as the Tatmadaw, said recent remarks by its commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, about abolishing the Constitution had been misinterpreted. 

"The Tatmadaw is protecting the 2008 Constitution and will act according to the law," it said. "Some organisations and media assumed what they want and wrote as Tatmadaw will abolish the Constitution."

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy Party (NLD), which won November’s election in a landslide, said the military’s statement was a "suitable explanation". 

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters the party wanted the military to be an organisation "that accepts the people’s desire regarding the election". 

Political tensions escalated this week when a military spokesman declined to rule out a coup, just days ahead of a new Parliament convening, and warned the armed forces could "take action" if its complaints about vote fraud were not addressed. 

Myanmar-based analyst Richard Horsey said an imminent coup now seemed unlikely. 

"It appears that Myanmar military has stepped back from its coup threat," he said on Twitter.

"How to interpret that, and what it means for stability going forward, depends on the behind the scenes details that aren’t clear yet."

Myanmar’s election commission on Thursday rejected the military’s allegations of vote fraud, saying there were no errors big enough to affect the credibility of the vote. 

The army’s repeated allegations of irregularities in the election, in which the NLD won 83 per cent of seats, have led to the most direct confrontation yet between the civilian government and the military, which has an awkward power-sharing agreement. 

The Constitution reserves 25 per cent of seats in Parliament for the military and control of three key ministries in Ms Suu Kyi’s administration. 

Military chief Min Aung Hlaing added to the coup fears when he told military personnel on Wednesday that the Constitution should be repealed if it was not abided by, citing previous instances when charters had been abolished in Myanmar. 

In Saturday’s statement, the military said his remarks were "to make them understand the situation of the Constitution."