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Myanmar Military's Return of Thought?
YANGON, Myanmar - During his recent trip to Myanmar last weeks, President Obama said a prudent tone of voice and that the reforms were "by no means comprehensive or irreversible". At the time, the recent investiture of President Thein Sein's pseudo-civilian administration seemed to indicate the emergence of liberalisation after almost half a century-old army reign.
As a result, many dissident politicians were freed from prison or detention, in particular the democratic symbol Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The progress has come to a standstill because the army is strengthening its grasp again. Tatmadaw, as the army is known, has become more and more self-confident in recent few month' s, even though the state is preparing for next year' s historical general elections, the first since the official disbandment of the army in 2011.
The Tatmadaw is not only progressively practicing the far-reaching privileges it gave itself in the 2008 constitution, it is also trying to further expand its authority. Mr President, the recent murder of the independent reporter Par Gyi, a former female personal guard of Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi, is just one blatant example. And, according to the 2008 constitution, "in the jurisdiction of judicial review", the ruling of the Commander-in-Chief is definitive.
Harvard Law School recently published a study citing three leading Karen leaders for 2005-2008 in the context of human rights and conflict atrocities. Today it is not so much a question of whether the army would consider a take-over - things have moved on - but rather how far it will go to defend its close interests against the open enemy, just a year before a general elections.
In the course of 2013, a Parliament' s own specialised commission asked the general opinion on whether and how the 2008 Constitution could be better. The most important opponent parties collected five million petitions from individuals in a seperate Petition calling for the change provision to be relaxed. Amending important parts of the Constitution, as well as the amending provision itself, will require a 75 per cent vote in parliament - giving the army the right of vote, since it has 25 per cent of the seat in parliament by statute - and then a 25 per cent vote in a nationwide referenda.
That very high level is blocking any major structural reforms, which include the provisions banning Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi's candidature for the EU Council President, and the provisions on taxing and appointing county councils in ethnically segregated areas. However, during the parliamentary debate last weeks, the members of the armed forces stated that the amending article should be retained.
Tatmadaw may never have thought of running for presidential office for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. That is particularly worrying, as the stiffening of the army could lead to frictions with the Thein Sein government: In December last year, the governing Union Solidarity and Development Party, an affiliate of the old army jungle, gave its unconditional consent to the revision of the constitutional change covenant.
During the early stages of liberalisation, the armed forces followed Mr Thein Sein's reforms. They seldom resisted the presidential policy diary, which was itself a careers official, except to protect their commercial and strategic interests. But, according to some of Mr Thein Sein's older helpers, the relationship between the Chairman and the Commander-in-Chief, Sen. Aung Hlaing, is becoming outdated.
A number of springs near both men tell me that General Min Aung Hlaing's harsher policies recently reminded me of the senior general Than Shwe, Myanmar's 1992-2011 army commander, which suggests that General Than Shwe is still the man behind the scene. Recently, the armed forces have demanded an extension of the National Defence and Security Council's function as a militarily dominant 11-member committee with extensive authority, with the right to take over from civil rule in a state of exception.
In last week's Parliamentary debate, members of the N.D.S.C. argue that if one third of the seat is free, the N.D.S.C. should be able to disband the parliament. If this was an individual case, it could be a manoeuvre by the army to improve its leveraging effect. But, like one of several of these steps recently, it is proof that the Gentiles are stiffening their position with little consideration for either global sentiment, the will of the electorate or even relationships with Mr Thein Sein.
The new Myanmar is beginning to look more and more like the old one after a brief blessing. Ms. Zin is a member of the Foreign Policy Democracy Lab and works as an analyst for think-tank and NGOs such as Freedom House in Myanmar.