Myanmar’s deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) party vowed to “return power to the people” on Monday, as it marked a year since its landslide general election victory that the military overturned in a February coup that has left the country isolated, hungry and wracked with violence.
Kyaw Htwe, a former lawmaker representing Zabuthiri township in the capital Naypyidaw and a member of the NLD’s Central Committee, said in a statement that the junta must respect the results of the Nov. 8, 2020, ballot and relinquish control of the country, which it has ruled by violently repressing its opponents.
“In order to resolve the current crisis in the country, all acts of violence must be stopped and all political prisoners — including the state counselor and the president — must be released immediately,” he said, referring to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint, both of whom were arrested shortly after the Feb. 1 coup.
“The implementation of the 2020 election results is still a necessary process, and much remains to be done.”
Nine months after the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,244 civilians and arrested at least 7,122, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Many of the deaths and arrests have occurred during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
The junta claims it unseated the NLD government because the party had engineered its victory in the 2020 election through widespread voter fraud, though international observers rated the vote legitimate. It has yet to present evidence backing up the allegation, and protests against the military regime continue.
On Monday, a participant in flash protests in Mandalay named Ko Thura told RFA’s Myanmar Service that anti-junta activities will not cease until democracy is reinstated.
“The reason we are still on the streets today is because the military dictatorship has not yet fallen,” he said.
“The focus of our protests is to continue our fight for the federal democratic union that we all aspire to, and we will continue to work for the establishment of a nation.”
The junta has also faced pressure from Western governments, including the United States, which have called for the military to step down.
The U.S. State Department said Monday that it will work to end military oppression and restore democracy in Myanmar.
“The military’s subsequent and ongoing violent crackdown has further undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms and reversed a decade of progress toward a genuine democracy,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement marking the anniversary of the election.
“We honor the people of [Myanmar] striving to restore democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country, including more than 1,300 innocent people who have lost their lives in that struggle.”
Blinken called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar, the release of all detainees, and a return of democratic institutions.
The statement drew a response from junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, who said that the U.S. should focus on its own affairs.
“They don’t have to tell us to return to democracy. We have promised that we will return to democracy, although it may not be the type of democracy they want it to be,” he said.
“We will go for a truly disciplined democracy. [The leaders] may not be who they want to be.”
Zaw Min Tun said the current situation in Myanmar is the result of “fraudulent 2020 elections” and that it is unfair to blame the military for the ensuing violence.
In July, Myanmar’s military-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) annulled the results of the election, claiming that more than 11.3 million ballots had been discounted due to fraud and other irregularities during the vote.
Among alleged irregularities, the commission said voters were allowed to cast ballots without presenting their national identification cards and some cast multiple ballots under the same name.
The UEC met with representatives of more than 40 pro-military parties over the weekend to discuss the use of a Proportional Representation system in the next election, although details of the meeting have yet to be made public. The meeting was boycotted by nearly 50 anti-coup political parties, including the NLD.
The image of normalcy the military tried to project a year into the country’s political crisis was undercut by clashes with anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias in four townships in the restive Sagaing region on Sunday. The military deployed helicopters and jets in what it referred to as “counter-terrorism operations.”
A resident told RFA that around 2,000 people have been forced to evacuate in recent days because of the military raids on six villages in Sagaing’s Kawlin township alone.
“It happened [Sunday] in the western part of Kawlin and also the previous day,” they said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
“Nothing has happened in [downtown] Kawlin itself so far. However, there were frequent clashes all over the eastern and western sides of the township. Most of the villagers are fleeing.”
Political analyst Dr. Sai Kyi Zin Soe told RFA on Monday that the military will not escape punishment for its violence and human rights abuses.
“Instead of a transfer of power to the people and a return to the time prior to the coup, there will be some kind of action for their past crimes … and violations of international law,” he said.
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