Myanmar’s military leader said on Monday his junta would hold a new election and hand power to the winner as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day to protest against the coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was speaking in a televised address, his first to the country since last Monday’s military takeover. He did not say when the election would be held, but repeated claims that last November’s poll, won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, had been fraudulent.
In the capital Naypyidaw, crowds of protesters chanted anti-coup slogans and told police they should serve the people not the military. Police turned water cannon on protesters and warned that they might use live fire if the demonstrators did not disperse, but the protests ended without bloodshed. Protests also took place in the commercial capital Yangon and elsewhere. Gatherings have so far been largely peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns on previous protests, in 1988 and 2007 in particular when hundreds were killed.
The generals had already tried to justify their takeover on the grounds of election fraud — rejected by the election committee — and had promised a new poll. Min Aung Hlaing reiterated that position in his address on Monday, saying the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy” different to previous eras of military rule. The election committee must be reformed, he said. He accused it of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to prevent fair campaigning. “We will have a multiparty election and we will hand the power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy,” he said. “I want to make a request to every citizen that everyone should go with the true facts and not to follow feelings of your own.” He gave no time frame but a state of emergency will last one year.
Upping the stakes in the crisis, state media had earlier signalled possible action against protesters. Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organised since the coup. The protests are the biggest since the “Saffron Revolution” led by monks in 2007, which led over subsequent years to the military’s gradual withdrawal from politics after decades of direct rule.