(AA) — The chief of Myanmar’s armed forces vowed Friday to maintain “stability” during upcoming elections and said the military would support the landmark poll.
The election, due in early November, has been billed by Myanmar’s reformist government as a key step toward democracy as the country emerges from five decades of military rule.
General Min Aung Hlaing was talking at a ceremony in front of 10,000 troops to mark Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II.
“The general election… represents an important landmark of democracy implementation of our country,” Min Aung Hlaing said in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital.
“Any disturbance to stability of the state and prevalence of law, any armed pressure or any threats for voting won’t be allowed in the general election.”
But the military’s pledge to support the poll will likely be scoffed at by critics, who regard the generals as one of the biggest barriers to democracy in the former pariah state.
A quarter of all seats in Myanmar’s parliament are reserved for the military under a controversial 2008 constitution drafted by the junta. That clause gives generals an effective veto over any changes to the charter, which require a 75 percent majority.
Another clause blocks Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from running for president by banning leaders who have foreign relatives. The democracy icon and former political prisoner has two English sons.
Her party, the National League for Democracy, has gathered five million signatures on a petition calling on the military to change both clauses. But observers say it is unlikely that will happen before voters go to the polls in November.
Another barrier to free and fair elections is ongoing communal tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims. Roughly one million Rohingya Muslims are likely to be denied the right to vote because they are considered illegal interlopers in the country.
Meanwhile, sporadic fighting between the government and various ethnic groups has continued despite efforts to secure a nationwide ceasefire deal.
President Thein Sein, a retired general who came to power after a 2010 election widely regarded as rigged, has defended the military’s role in Myanmar’s transition.