Myanmar Extends State of Emergency, Delaying Expected Polls

The Military True News Information Team via AP
In this photo released from the The Military True News Information Team, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing talks during the National Defense and Security Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military government announced Wednesday that is extending a state of emergency it imposed when it seized power two years ago, a move that appears to set back its plans for an election that had been expected in August.

The announcement on state-run MRTV television said the National Defense and Security Council, which met Tuesday, extended the state of emergency for another six months because the country remains in an abnormal situation and time is needed to prepare for a peaceful and stable election. The NDSC is nominally a constitutional administrative government body, but in practice is controlled by the military.

No exact date has been announced for the polls, though the head of the ruling military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has suggested they could be held in August. Wednesday’s report said the election will be held after accomplishing the provisions of the state of emergency.

The state of emergency allows the military to assume all government functions, giving Min Aung Hlaing legislative, judicial and executive powers.

The announcement, on the anniversary of the army’s seizure of power in 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, will be seen as an admission that the army has failed to quell widespread opposition to military rule, which includes increasingly challenging armed resistance as well as nonviolent protests and civil disobedience. State media said Tuesday’s NDSC meeting discussed how opposition groups are seeking to take power through “wrongful forcible means” including assassinations, bombings and destruction of state property.

The constitution stipulates that to hold an election, the military has to transfer government functions to the president, who heads the NDSC, six months before the polls, which in the current case would mean Acting President Myint Swe, an army ally.

A spokesperson for the opposition’s underground National Unity Government, which acts as a shadow government opposed to army rule, said the extension was no surprise because they had expected the military would take some action to cement its control on the anniversary of its takeover.

Nay Phone Latt said in a text message that his group and its allies have the support of the public, whose determination will continue until “revolution” is achieved.

The military said its 2021 takeover was prompted by massive voting fraud in a November 2020 general election, though independent election observers did not find any major irregularities. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory for a second term in the election, humiliating the military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Critics say the military-planned election will be neither free nor fair because there is no free media and most of the leaders of Suu Kyi’s party have been arrested or gone into hiding or exile. Suu Kyi, 77, is serving prison sentences totaling 33 years after being convicted in a series of politically tainted prosecutions brought by the military.

Last week, the military government enacted a new law on registration of political parties that makes it difficult for opposition groups to mount a serious challenge to army-backed candidates in a general election.

The National League for Democracy declared last November that it will not accept or recognize the military-planned election, which it described as “fake.” It said the polls are an attempt by the military to gain political legitimacy and international recognition.

Opposition militants have been attempting to disrupt preparations for the election by attacking personnel of the military government who are conducting a population survey that could be used to assemble voter rolls.

“Upon accomplishing the provisions of the state of emergency, free and fair elections will be held in line with the 2008 constitution, and further work will be undertaken to hand over state duties to the winning party in accordance with the democratic standards,” Min Aung Hlaing declared at a Jan. 4 celebration of Myanmar’s independence day in the capital, Naypyitaw,