Myanmar military regime chief Min Aung Hlaing is likely to hand over power to his puppet, acting president U Myint Swe, at the head of a “civilian government” while remaining the power behind the throne when two years of emergency military rule expire at the end of this month.
The scenario, sources and analysts said, is meant to prepare for the election the junta plans to hold this year, with the regime chief continuing to hold the powerful army boss position while waiting to become the country’s president through the election. Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution states that a poll must be held within six months of the end of emergency rule.
They said the junta chief would most likely choose this option, as the constitution prohibits him from extending emergency rule beyond two years. More importantly, he needs to fill the power vacuum until the election by picking someone he will be able to influence as they organize the election, and who can peddle Min Aung Hlaing’s lie that he is no longer in charge.
Facing no significant opposition, Min Aung Hlaing’s road to the country’s top job is open, as the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party only needs to secure 26 per cent of seats in the national legislature to add to the 25 per cent constitutionally guaranteed to the military. Observers said this will make the junta feel it can claim legitimacy as an elected government, though the planned poll has already been condemned as a sham both locally and internationally.
If the staged “power handover” happens, it will take place at the January 31 meeting of the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), at which the regime will submit its report on two years of emergency rule to the defence and security body. As the Myanmar military chief, Min Aung Hlaing is an NDSC member.
The junta seized power from the country’s democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on February 1, 2021, announcing “emergency rule” on grounds of vote fraud in the 2020 general election—a claim dismissed by international election observers. The NLD won a landslide victory in the polls.
The so-called civilian government, under the name of a “transitional council”, will be led by current acting president U Myint Swe, a former general and military-elected vice president during the NLD government. Min Aung Hlaing picked him as the acting president at the time of the coup, but U Myint Swe does not hold a position of power in the regime. Analysts said U Myint Swe’s role as president in the new government would be merely ceremonial, as Min Aung Hlaing would pull the strings from behind the scenes.
Sources said the new cabinet members will include some from the regime’s governing State Administration Council (SAC).
The scenario is constitutionally viable; the charter dictates that the NDSC exercise legislative power after annulling the sovereign power granted to the military chief while transferring administrative and judicial powers to an individual or organization that can hold them until an election can be held.
The situation on the ground, however, could still thwart the regime’s plan to hold an election, as fighting between the military and anti-junta forces continues to escalate, including resistance attacks on election offices and teams involved in updating voter lists. In light of this, another possible scenario emerges.
Some observers fear the regime could manipulate the relevant provision of the constitution, which says that the NDSC may “normally” permit two six-month extensions of emergency rule. Given the extraordinary situation of ongoing fighting across the country, there are questions as to whether the NDSC can extend emergency rule a third time.
Whatever the case, the analysts said, Min Aung Hlaing will continue to hold power, be it de facto or de jure. The NDSC meeting on January 31 in Naypyitaw will decide which.
(By arrangement with ‘The Irrawaddy’)