BANGKOK – Six months after seizing power from the elected government, Myanmar’s military leader on Sunday declared himself prime minister and said he would lead the country under the extended state of emergency until elections are held in about two years.
“We must create conditions to hold a free and fair multiparty general election," Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said during a recorded televised address. "We have to make preparations. I pledge to hold the multiparty general election without fail.”
He said the state of emergency will achieve its objectives by August 2023. In a separate announcement, the military government named itself “the caretaker government” and Min Aung Hlaing the prime minister.
The state of emergency was declared when troops moved against the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, an action the generals said was permitted under the military-authored 2008 constitution. The military claimed her landslide victory in last year’s national elections was achieved through massive voter fraud but offered no credible evidence.
The military government officially annulled the election results last Tuesday and appointed a new election commission to take charge of the polls.
The military takeover was met with massive public protests that has resulted in a lethal crackdown by security forces who routinely fire live ammunition into crowds.
As of Sunday, 939 people have been killed by the authorities since Feb. 1, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Casualties are also rising among the military and police as armed resistance grows in both urban and rural areas.
Moves by The Association of Southeast Asian Nations to broker a dialogue between the military government and its opponents have stalled after an agreement at an April summit in Jakarta to appoint a special envoy for Myanmar.
Min Aung Hlaing said that among the three nominees, Thailand's former Deputy Foreign Minister Virasakdi Futrakul was selected as the envoy. "But for various reasons, new proposals were released and we could not keep moving onwards. I would like to say that Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework, including the dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar,” he said.
ASEAN foreign ministers were expected to discuss Myanmar in virtual meetings this week hosted by Brunei, the current chair of the 10-nation bloc.
Myanmar is also struggling with its worst COVID-19 outbreak that has overwhelmed its already crippled health care system. Limitations on oxygen sales have led to widespread allegations that the military is directing supplies to government supporters and military-run hospitals.
At the same time, medical workers have been targeted by authorities after spearheading a civil disobedience movement that urged professionals and civil servants not to cooperate with the government.
Min Aung Hlaing blamed the public’s mistrust in the military’s efforts to control the outbreak on “fake news and misinformation via social networks,” and accused those behind it of using COVID-19 “as a tool of bioterrorism.”