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Myanmar junta vows elections, lashes out at critics

January 4, 2023

Myanmar's military leader criticized foreign interference as the country marked its Independence Day. The junta pledged to release thousands of prisoners.

Myanmar junta leader Ming Aung Hlaing presides over military parades on Independence Day
Military general Min Aung Hlaing has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist, ordering an extensive crackdown on opposition groupsImage: Str/AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing vowed new elections during a national parade on Wednesday, while also lashing out at foreign critics of the country's military leadership.

Junta promises 'free and fair' elections  

"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," the junta leader said in a speech to troops celebrating the country's 75th Independence Day from Britain.

Myanmar has been under a state of emergency since February 2021, when democratically elected leaders such as State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were ousted by the junta.  Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party achieved a landslide victory in general elections the prior year, with the military claiming the outcome was illegitimate. 

The military could take steps towards new elections at the end of the month, when the latest six-month extension of the state of emergency ends. The election plan will likely be met with skepticism from Western countries, including the US. 

Myanmar military vehicles displayed during the country's Independence Day parade
Myanmar's military has refused to cede power, despite Western backlashImage: Str/AFP/Getty Images

Min Aung Hlaing called on the international community and the country's own citizens to back "the genuine discipline-flourishing multiparty democratic system" in Myanmar. 

Supporters of jailed leader Suu Kyi claim she is imprisoned by the military to prevent her from taking part in new elections. Suu Kyi played a pivotal role in the country's democratic transition in the 2010s and challenged the military's firm grip over politics. 

Military criticizes 'foreign interference,' thanks friendly nations  

The national parade on Wednesday featured a show of force by the military, with armed units walking in formation and jets conducting flyovers.  

Min Aung Hlaing criticized unnamed countries of interference in Myanmar's international affairs in defiant remarks.

"It is seen that some organizations and countries had meddled in the internal affairs of Myanmar. However, we have decided to stand firm globally, while adhering to our foreign policy in order to safeguard the sovereignty, security and interests of our nation," the junta leader said.

Following the February 2021 coup, Myanmar has been sanctioned by the US, UK, EU and other Western powers for trampling on democracy in the southeast Asian nation. Western countries have also criticized Myanmar for waging a crackdown on protests against the current military regime.

Resisting the junta: Myanmar's young rebels

In a possible attempt to placate Western critics and international organizations such as the UN, the military said it would release 7,012 prisoners on Wednesday, according to the state MRTV broadcaster. 

Min Aung Hlaing also thanked "international and regional countries and organizations and individuals who cooperated with us... in the midst of all the pressure, criticism and attacks."

"We are working closely working with neighboring countries such as China, India, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh. We will work together for border stability and development," the junta leader said. 

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) recently met in Cambodia to discuss a possible peace plan in Myanmar, as fighting between the junta and opposition groups continue. So far, ASEAN has failed to come up with a regional solution to stop the bloodshed. 

Hope for Myanmar rests on ASEAN overcoming its inaction

wd/dj (AP, AFP, Reuters)