Myanmar junta extends state of emergency citing need for ‘election prep’

UPDATED at 7:29 p.m. EDT on 2022-08-01

Myanmar’s military regime has extended the country’s state of emergency for an additional six months to Feb. 1, 2023 citing the need for additional “election preparations,” as citizens staged rallies over the weekend pledging allegiance to the anti-junta democracy movement.

The decision to extend the state of emergency was made during a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council in the capital Naypyidaw, state media reported, and follows an earlier extension of six months on Feb. 1 – the one-year anniversary of the country’s military coup. 

Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution allows for the declaration of a one-year state of emergency that can be extended by a maximum of two six-month terms, after which elections must be held within a six-month period.

During a televised speech on Monday, junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said that the state of emergency had to be extended as “there are still things that need to be done ahead of the election.”

He made no mention of a date for the election, but said it could only be held after Myanmar becomes “peaceful and stable.”  The extension of the state of emergency suggests there will be no election until at least Feb. 1, 2023.

Min Aung Hlaing also called for “electoral reform” that would give greater weight to proportional representation in Myanmar’s first-past-the-post system, which saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) sweep the country’s November 2020 general election. He pointed to “powerful parties” as previously preventing political propriety in the polls.

The junta declared the results of the 2020 election null and void due to alleged voter fraud, although it has yet to present evidence of its claims 18 months after the coup. Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested during the takeover and faces multiple charges that could see her jailed for up to 150 years.

The official Global New Light of Myanmar reported Monday that Min Aung Hlaing had requested the junta “allow him to serve for an additional six months” – a proposal it said the National Defense and Security Council “unanimously supported.”

Analysts told RFA Burmese that Monday’s announcement was expected and suggested it was part of a plan by the junta to install a pro-military government in its place.

“He will definitely hold an election in 2023,” political analyst Than Soe Naing said of the junta chief.

“I think he intends to make someone from the forces led by the military as the head of state. I think it is a plan to transform ‘General Min Aung Hlaing’ into ‘President Min Aung Hlaing.’”

Hunter Marston, a researcher and analyst at Australian National University in Canberra, said Min Aung Hlaing’s decision to extend the state of emergency on Monday came as “no surprise.”

“It gets the [junta] that much closer to holding an election under its rules and preferences, by which time it will have had its chance to remove the NLD's top political leaders and intimidate all other political parties as well as voters into voting under its preferred [proportional representation] system,” he said.

“What's truly galling is the Commander-in-Chief's use of language concerning ‘genuine multi-party democracy.’ Min Aung Hlaing continually references the 2008 Constitution and the [military's] desire for ‘disciplined democracy.’ The irony must be lost on him: the fact that ‘disciplined democracy’ defeats the purpose of ‘free and fair’ elections if the military is imposing its system by force!”

The opposition has called on the public to boycott the junta-sponsored election that would annul the 2020 results.

Junta performance review


Also in Monday’s speech, Min Aung Hlaing said that a total of 6,236 people had been arrested in the 18 months since the military coup.

During the period, there were 7,246 mine and grenade attacks, 6,567 killings, and 1,094 cases of arson, while authorities seized 6,311 weapons, more than 335,100 pieces of ammunition, and 11,715 grenades and landmines, he said.

Of those killed, 3,483 were civilians, including children, Buddhist monks and nuns, government employees, and administrative officials. He said 3,065 people had been injured in violence since Feb. 1, 2021 and 41 people had gone missing.

Sagaing region saw the worst of violent conflict between the military and anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries or armed ethnic groups over the last 18 months with 4,026 clashes, while Yangon, Mandalay, and Magwe region saw 2,442, 2,194, and 1,359 clashes, respectively.

According to figures from the Bangkok-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 14,596 were arrested by the junta since the coup, 11,859 of whom are still in detention, including 1,364 who were imprisoned. The group has documented the killings of 2,142 civilians over the same period.

Min Aung Hlaing also acknowledged having failed to implement the so-called “five-point consensus” (5PC) he agreed to during an emergency Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting on the situation in Myanmar in April last year, which he blamed on the coronavirus pandemic and “political instability.”

The consensus called for an end to violence; constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy; the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.

The junta chief said he will implement “what we can” from among the five points this year as Myanmar’s political situation “has improved,” but added that he must prioritize dealing with issues that might “jeopardize the country’s sovereignty,” including judicial, legislative, and administrative matters.

Analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that Min Aung Hlaing hopes to “buy more time” with vague promises about the 5PC.

“In reality, [the junta] won't implement it. After taking a year and a half without doing anything about it, I think this is another ruse, a political ploy, to delay it again,” he said.

“As they have declared they will not hold talks with 'terrorist forces’ like the NUG [Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government] and ethnic armed groups associated with the [anti-junta] ‘Spring Revolution,’ they will not be able to do anything about ending the violence as called for in the ASEAN consensus.”

Marston, of Australian National University, called Min Aung Hlaing’s pledge “not credible.”

“Min Aung Hlaing agreed to the 5PC at the special ASEAN Summit in April 2021 and immediately rebuffed it after landing in Yangon,” he said.

“He is continuing to play for time and seeks to divide those within ASEAN who would oppose the [junta] from those who seek to foster dialogue with the [junta] and shield it from criticism.”

Billy Ford, Burma Program officer at Washington’s United States Institute of Peace, warned against trusting junta promises.

“It is all political disinformation and propaganda aimed at generating fear among the Myanmar people and creating a veneer of good faith that gives international actors a justification to continue with the status quo, which enables them to continue committing atrocities,” he said.

“Min Aung Hlaing's stated intention to comply with and follow the five-point consensus is blatantly false. I expect in coming months, [the junta] will escalate violence - the goal being to generate fear within the population … since they see that accountability is likely only going to come from the resistance movement in Myanmar, not from the international community.”

Nationwide rallies


News of the junta’s decision to extend a state of emergency and Min Aung Hlaing’s vow to implement the 5PC came as Burmese citizens, angered by the execution of four democracy activists last week and worn down by 18 months of military rule, staged rallies across Myanmar, from major cities to regions that have seen the heaviest clashes between troops and PDF groups.

The Sunday rallies were held in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay along with the regions of Sagaing and Thanintharyi.

Protesters made vows to fight for democracy, banged pots and sounded car horns as well as promoting their cause on social media.

Residents said since the public pledge of allegiance ceremonies had been announced in advance, security was tighter than usual in the big cities. They also spotted security guards and plainclothes officers. 

People were searched and there were some arrests. About 30 Mandalay residents who posted comments on Facebook urging people to participate were arrested by military council forces, according to a member of Mandalay’s Sanga (Buddhist monk) Union.

“There were people who were arrested after writing posts urging people to take part in activities a day in advance. They were arrested due to military informants like Han Nyein Oo,” he said.

“They prepared ambushes in the night and stuck posters on electricity poles urging people not to participate,” the monk told RFA. He said the protests were still a success because many people still took part.

Telegram channels supporting the military council have been campaigning for the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the campaign.

Fighting until the junta is defeated

RFA has not been able to independently confirm the exact number of people arrested for participating in, or inciting people to make, the pledge of allegiance. Nang Linn, a member of the University Students’ Force, told RFA the public pledge was made as a commitment to participate in the anti-dictatorship revolution until the end by people who have suffered since the military took power.

“The main thing is that we will transform the stubbornness, anger, and bitterness that we are experiencing during this anti-regime revolution into a revolutionary spirit and then we will all march together and fight until we reach the revolution’s goal. Therefore, the public pledge was made by the power of the people,” he said.

Nann Linn said the democracy movement shows the power and defiant attitude of people across Myanmar, while respecting the martyred leaders of the movement.

A woman in Pazondaung township spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons. She said she recited the pledge of allegiance and banged pots at home because security on the streets was too tight.

“I saw on Facebook that people planned to recite the vow and bang pots and pans, and cars would sound their horns. I banged a bowl, “she said. “Not every house in my ward banged pots. Some banged iron buckets and others crashed Jam Jam Jam [cymbals]. Cars honked their horns but people didn’t didn’t protest for long,” the woman told RFA.

People in the war-torn areas of Monywa, Yinmabin and Kani township in Sagaing Region and parts of Thanintharyi region also made the pledge of allegiance, holding banners saying “Only the Righteous one wins”.

Protesters across the country said they will continue marching until the goals of the anti-dictatorship revolution have been reached.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Updated to include Min Aung Hlaing's comments on extending the country's state of emergency, statistics since coup, and pledge to implement the 5PC.