Why did Senior General Min Aung Hlaing take power from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? (Part II)
Part II - NP News (Exclusive Interview with SAC Spokesperson Zaw Min Tun)
Q: The public is wondering what makes the Defense Services take over the power; of course the other side (NLD) has been witnessed failing to clarify in the crisis of electoral fraud. How would you reply to that question?
ZMT: Tatmadaw (the Defense Services) has full responsibility to safeguard the Constitution. The vision of the state is clearly described in Chapter 1 of the Constitution. The Constitution broadly prescribes that the state is heading forward the genuine and disciplined democracy. When going to the road to genuine and disciplined democracy is strayed, as the Defense Services is an institution, we have a responsibility to control that situation. More again, when the government, at that time, showed irresponsible manner and did not take consideration whenever other political parties were saying or complaining whatsoever, they (the latter) approached Tatmadaw seeking support for them as they take Tatmadaw as responsive. We (the Tatmadaw) believed we have a responsibility too. So we did.
Q: We noticed that political parties started speaking out about the vote-rigging soon after the election result had out. Later, Tatmadaw issued statements up to 26th and held press conferences continuously. So, there were different opinions and news among the public in the last week of January 2021 related to the political situation. Could you tell me about the situation at that time from the point of Defense Services? For example, are there any differences between what the public had known, for example - Lieutenant General Yar Pyae visited and met the state leader, and the real situation? Will you tell me something like that?
ZMT: I will tell to an extent that I can disclose. Yes, Lieutenant General Yar Pyae visited and met the then-president and some responsible leaders before 1st February. They treated our representatives high-handedly instead of negotiation. Our representatives said something like ‘you all shouldn’t behave that discourteous and uncivil’. Later, another lieutenant general went and brought the letter which was written by the Vice Commander-in-Chief in his hand-writing. These are the primary sources of historical evidence. Those kinds of evidence will be revealed at the right time. What I want to say is we negotiated. It is dishonest that the responsible persons want to bargain only when they are under charges although they had many chances to negotiate before.
Q: U Zaw Htay and U Kyaw Tint Swe came and met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. So what did they (U Zaw Htay and U Kyaw Tint Swe) discuss and promise? Could you tell me about that?
ZMT: Actually they came to figure out our perspective instead of giving promises of them. We continuously discussed and requested to clarify the vote-rigging; to postpone the parliamentary sessions while disputes were settling, and to re-organize the UEC with reliable persons. We did not ask unfair requests. Again, we requested our demands in person after we sent the letter. However, they rejected, saying that they couldn’t accept to do so as per the law. So we proposed to convene the National Defense and Security Council meeting for having better outcomes. They rejected again.
Q: Can you tell clearly whether Senior General Min Aung Hlaing asked for the ‘president title’ or if he demanded to extend his term of Commander-in-Chief next five years?
ZMT: The president title is not the one that someone can beg for. He did not ask for that title. There is no reason to demand it. I can’t say certainly about a person’s political goal or personal aim. Other media outlets asked the same question whether Senior General Min Aung Hlaing aims for being a president.
And it doesn’t need to ask for extending the term of Commander-in-Chief too. We already have a law since a long time ago. We are not the ones who enact it. It was enacted by Burma Socialist Programme Party. The law states that the Commander-in-Chief and the Vice Commander-in-Chief shall have the right to serve their duties as long as the country and the Defense Services need them. Service terms of each and different ranks, for example, Lieutenant General or General, are already stated in the law. That’s why we don’t need to ask for an extension. With respect to the question of whether Senior General Min Aung Hlaing wants to be a president, he always said one thing that he has many experiences in both state-building and the processes of building Defense Services as a Commander-in-Chief. He won’t waste those experiences and he will use them if necessary. That’s his answer.
Q: Within the five-year when NLD was ruling, did the Defense Services and the NLD leaders get along? Or was there any hidden tension that the public didn’t recognize?
ZMT: Many things have happened throughout history between these two groups. However, let me point out the event that happened in recent years. After the 2015 election, both groups negotiated to pass the power from the President U Thein Sein administration to the NLD. We published press releases about the discussions and meetings they made.
Their representatives including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Win Htein visited and met the then-President U Thein Sein and the Commander-in-Chief. There was no problem at that time. However, many rumors were willing to fail the power transferring. People were saying that they (Tatmadaw) won’t pass the power to the NLD. But we did. Power transferring was successful. So, that event should be taken as proof to tell whether there was a good or bad relationship between Tatmadaw and the NLD.
Later, there might be mutual promises and bargaining between the two groups. Then, after 2015, many incidents happened since 2016 and 2017, especially in the parliament. Situations were harder gradually; attempt to amend the Constitution, and the proposals that were submitted by the military MPs were not allowed to discuss within the parliament. One of the worst incidents was microphones were shut down when a military parliamentarian was discussing. Therefore, I would like to say it isn’t that the relationship wasn’t good since early. However, there were tensions depending on the situations lately happened.
Q: Some say that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi coordinated within 2015 and 2020 with the Defense Services but the Tatmadaw failed to do so. Did the Defense Services make a mess of the coordination?
ZMT: People should see the reality rather than saying allegations. I will raise a counter-question. First, did the Defense Services object in power transferring to the NLD after the 2015 election? Second, Tatmadaw is the main responsible institution for security and defense affairs as per the Constitution. Therefore, there are boundaries and limits what we commonly called redlines. The 2008 Constitution already limits redlines. So, the Defense Services won’t stand and will denounce when they cross those redlines. So, what I want to tell is … show me the proof or evidence that the Tatmadaw made a mess of, without coordination, within five years apart from the incidents in which the NLD crossed the redlines and disrespected the provisos that must not be touched.
Q: Referring 26th statement released by the Defense Services, we saw that Tatmadaw found itself in a dilemma because Tatmadaw had told everything that should be told. On the other hand, the NLD refused to fulfill and stayed silent. So, the situation went to the final step which has to be solved in accordance with the law. The final step is that Tatmadaw has to unavoidably take over the power. That is the outsider’s view. So, did the Defense Services really encounter a difficult situation without choices?
ZMT: Right. It was very difficult to decide. Let me tell you an example….. if you ask me ‘do we have a plan to take over the power’, I would say ‘No’. However, as we are the Defense Services, we do every scenario from an aspect of security and defense point of view. So we calculate either good or bad consequences. The truth was we didn’t even have an idea to name the council just after taking over the power on February 1. Later we called it State Administration Council. Again, I noticed that when it was in SLORC or other administrations, cabinet members were appointed altogether. However, we couldn’t nominate all ministers at the same time. We could appoint three or four ministers at a time; then another three or four ministers were announced at another time. It was because we didn’t have planned to take over.
We will convene an election at a right time. Our duty is only for the emergency period. The Tatmadaw acts as maintaining the state power temporarily. It isn’t the coup d’etat. So, you will notice that military officials are involved in the cabinet. According to the Constitution, the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Border Affairs, and Ministry of Home Affairs, plus Ministry of Transport and Communications are appointed one minister each with military personnel. We designated the rest mostly with the former ministers who are skillful and have experience and comply with the principle of the Defense Services.
Q: So, conditions turned to lead to take over. Was the Defense Services mentally ready when the coup was inevitable? I mean if the power is taken over, the public will definitely respond. That’s for sure.
ZMT: From a mental aspect, our conviction is we (Tatmadaw) have the duty to control the country in accordance with the Constitution when things were going wrong. We were conscious that we would face public responses if we take over the power. On the other hand, we believe that we can control those situations. We schemed to carry out in line with the law since before. The parliamentarians were at the Nay Pyi Taw City Development Committee Guest House altogether on 1st February 2021. It means we could play them. We could do the necessary interrogations. We have shreds of evidence that they were involved in the voting fraud. However, Tatmadaw didn’t do it. We released them all. We let them stay in their places. At that time, U Win Htein came to the guest house and he incited the parliamentarians. CRPH was formed in the guest house in early February. In that situation, we could seize and charge them. However, we liberalized and released them. Later, some parliamentarians had gone underground and became insurgents themselves, deliberately provoking the public to rebel against the government.
Q: Before the coup, Tatmadaw released statements and announcements with regard to the voting fraud. However, the international community didn’t pay attention. So, was there pressure from the international community on Tatmadaw since that time? What do you think?
ZMT: Concerning the noisy international organizations, what they want in Myanmar is a puppet government that they can play well instead of genuine and disciplined democracy. For example, the US released statements with regard to the election in the campaign period and post-election period. When we were interviewed by Japan, we showed them the evidence of torn envelopes that were used for advance votes. More again, the former US Secretary of State Michael Richard Pompeo included in his statement that the US will be closely monitoring the electoral processes. It was demanded in his statement to have careful vote counting and transparent examinations on the election complaints. At that time, electoral representatives from the USDP reported the UEC a total of 174 complaints, 1280 reports to the township election commissions via the police forces, and a total of three writs to the Supreme Court. A total of 124 protests against the UEC in 99 townships occurred from 10th November 2020 to 29th January 2021. The former US Secretary of State released his statements based on those incidents. Later, he stayed silent. That is their true colour.
Lately, we (Tatmadaw) invite the diplomats and showed them the evidence and findings of the new UEC transparently. You might notice that I held and showed individual ballot paper. Some ballot papers were stamped the NLD vote in advance. The new UEC also found that many ballot books were stamped the NLD vote in advance. We showed those proofs. We also found that the ballot papers have no signature of the polling station officer; lack of fingerprint of the officer; and wrong information of the voters. We showed those proofs to the diplomats and the media. But they all neglect and refuse to accept the truth. That is their true colour and what they really want. Everyone can come and check those evidence and proofs at the UEC at any time. We have strong and enough evidence.
Part 3 of the interview will be continued…..