Myanmar general promises elections and end of emergency by 2023

Gen Min Aung Hlaing says his government is also ready to work with Asean envoy

Myanmar's military leader said on Sunday that elections would be held and a state of emergency lifted by August 2023.

This extends the initial timetable given by the military when it deposed Aung San Suu Kyi six months ago.

The country has been in turmoil since the army ousted the civilian leader in February, launching a bloody crackdown on dissent that has killed more than 900 people, according to a local monitoring group.

A resurgent Covid-19 virus wave has amplified havoc, with many hospitals empty of pro-democracy medical staff, while the World Bank has forecast the economy will contract by up to 18 per cent.

In a televised address to mark six months since the army took over, Gen Min Aung Hlaing said: “We will accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023.

“I pledge to hold multi-party elections without fail,” he added.

The general's announcement would place Myanmar under military rule for nearly two and a half years – instead of the one-year timetable the military announced days after the coup.

He also said his government is ready to work with any special envoy named by the Association of South-East Asian Nations when foreign ministers meet on Monday.

Diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

“Myanmar is ready to work on Asean co-operation within the Asean framework, including the dialogue with the Asean special envoy in Myanmar,” Gen Min Aung Hlaing said.

The army has sought to justify its power grab by alleging massive fraud during 2020 elections won by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in a landslide victory. The military has threatened to dissolve the party.

Last week, it cancelled the results of the polls, announcing it had uncovered more than 11 million instances of voter fraud.

Ms Suu Kyi has been detained since February 1 and faces an eclectic array of charges – from flouting coronavirus restrictions to illegally importing walkie talkies – that, if found guilty, could see her jailed for more than a decade.

Across Myanmar, small groups of demonstrators marched on Sunday, marking the six months since soldiers launched their putsch with pre-dawn raids, ending a decade-long experiment with democracy.

Protesters in the northern town of Kale held banners reading “strength for the revolution” while demonstrators let off flares at a march in the commercial capital Yangon.

Tens of thousands of civil servants and other workers have either been sacked for joining rallies or are still on strike in support of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign.

That has worsened the country's economic travails, crushing local business activity, while the exit of multinational companies from as far afield as Japan, Norway and the US has worsened the sense of economic gloom.

The NLD saw its support increase in the 2020 vote, compared to the previous election in 2015.

In a report on the 2020 polls, the Asian Network for Free Elections monitoring group said the elections were “by and large, representative of the will of the people".

As of Sunday, 939 people have been killed by the authorities since February 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.

Updated: August 1st 2021, 11:43 AM