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The armed forces and the democratic transition in Myanmar

Democracy Military operations Defence Myanmar

For decades, the armed forces have been the most powerful political institution in Myanmar. In 2008, this position was enshrined in a new constitution. Since 2011, the generals have been aiming for a controlled withdrawal from government, while retaining the Tatmadaw’s institutional independence and a major role in national affairs. It is their firm intention, however, to decide the time frame for a democratic transition. They seem to envisage at least one more five-year presidential term before any further transfer of power, and then only if certain conditions are met. They may be prepared to countenance a government dominated by the opposition National League for Democracy, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s current confrontational approach, by claiming a position above the president, does not augur well for Myanmar’s future political order. Also, the Tatmadaw is likely to be slow to accept the constraints on its power that will be required for Myanmar to become a genuine democracy.Any perceived challenges to Myanmar’s unity, internal stability and sovereignty — critical factors in the minds of the country’s military leaders — will inevitably delay the process. They could even halt it.

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