Suu Kyi attends military parade
In a measure of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Myanmar, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended, for the first time, the annual parade of an institution her father founded but which kept her in detention for about a third of her adult life.
Suu Kyi took her place in the front row at the annual Armed Forces Day parade in a sprawling military base near Naypyidaw yesterday. Some 6,000 troops marched in formation while the ceremony featured a fly-past – a first – of military helicopters and jets such as MIG 29s. Other hardware included Russian S-125 Pechora surface-to-air missiles.
The day also marked the promotion of the armed forces’ commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, to Senior General.
“We will keep on marching to strengthen the democratic administrative path wished for by the entire people,” he told those present, including about 200 officers and foreign defence attaches as well as a handful of journalists.
“It is very important for the public, including the Tatmadaw (armed forces), to abide by law and order. We, the Tatmadaw, really desire the emergence of the well-disciplined democratic nation,” he said, according to an official translation of his speech.
Suu Kyi’s presence was hugely symbolic. The military, founded by her father and independence hero General Aung San, handed over power to a quasi- civilian government in 2010.
President Thein Sein, a former top general, took power in 2011. In a carefully calibrated move, he rehabilitated Suu Kyi, allowing her party to contest a historic by-election and enter Parliament last year.
The move brought Suu Kyi into mainstream politics after years in the political wilderness, spent mostly under house arrest in a lakeside bungalow in Yangon.
She has since cultivated a warm relationship with Thein Sein and another former general, the influential Speaker of the House Shwe Mann.
She has also warmed to the army, making a point of referencing her father’s role. His photograph almost always appears with hers in all party paraphernalia.
The current Constitution, drawn up by the former military regime in 2008, sets aside 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for armed forces personnel.
Analysts said the Senior General’s message was clear: The army supports the transition to democracy, but will also remain relevant and engaged in the process.
His speech recalled the Tatmadaw’s role in stabilising the country through multiple civil wars, and he said the army would perform a “role in national politics in accordance with the people’s desire when the nation faces ethnic conflicts or political struggles”.
The speech came against a backdrop of Buddhist-Muslim violence in central Myanmar which has spread to Bago, a township north of Yangon.
The army has been deployed under emergency powers in Rakhine state, hit by sectarian violence last year, and in the central town of Meikhtila, where at least 40 people were killed last week.
A Yangon-based analyst, who asked not to be identified, said the military was clearly trying to be inclusive.
A broad range of political personalities were invited to its traditional dinner banquet in Yangon last night.
“The commander-in-chief’s message is mixed. But it is also pretty much in accordance with the Constitution: the Tatmadaw getting involved in politics but also helping democracy. All in all, it is a positive,” the analyst said.