Parade underscores difficulty of power-sharing agreement in Myanmar’s new government
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—Myanmar’s armed forces put their might on full display Sunday in a yearly parade that reinforced the central role they will continue to play despite the imminent handover of government to a democratically elected administration directed by new ruling party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Armed Forces Day celebrations featured gleaming tanks and jet fighters and ranks of spit-and-polish troops. Though the event commemorates Myanmar’s armed resistance to the Japanese in World War II, it has long sent a powerful message of the important role the commander-in-chief plays in politics during a half-century of dominance, even now as Ms. Suu Kyi’s party takes the stage.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief, said that the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, “are the ones who ensure the stability of the country at this democratic transition” and have “brought about the country to the present situation” of democracy.
“The Tatmadaw has to be present in a leading role in national politics” and will uphold the constitution, he said.
The charter enshrines a quarter of the parliament’s seats for the military and gives them control over key ministries. It also prevents Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate whom many in Myanmar regard as their rightful leader, from attaining the presidency because she has close foreign relatives. Her two children are British and so was her late husband.
The constitutional prohibition has put Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in a difficult position since sweeping historic elections to parliament in November. Ms. Suu Kyi has had to put forward a confidant, Htin Kyaw, as president and her proxy. Ms. Suu Kyi is expected to take on cabinet portfolios, including the foreign ministry.
Both Ms. Suu Kyi and Mr. Htin Kyaw were absent from the parade and the NLD was represented by more junior party members.
Ms. Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for 15 years as the military tried to crush her pro-democracy opposition movement and has attended the parade only once, in 2013, in a reconciliation gesture two years after a nominally-civilian government comprised mostly of former generals took office. Photos of her sitting among generals irritated former political prisoners who still deeply distrust the military.
The parade underscores the awkwardness of the power-sharing agreement that the NLD will have with the military as a partner in governing Myanmar. Their cooperation will be key to a successful transition, but trust has been tenuous, particularly since the armed forces has refused to budge on amending the constitution to clear the presidency for Ms. Suu Kyi.
The billboards around Napyitaw on the way to the parade grounds made it clear: “Tatmadaw and the people are in eternal unity, anyone attempting to divide them is our enemy.”
—Myo Myo contributed to this article.