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Myanmar – Multiple Challenges Emerge in 2019

Published Jan 03, 2019
Updated May 18, 2020

The year 2019 denotes multiple challenges emerging for Myanmar’s government led by Daw Aung Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD). Civil military relations, a rising insurgency in Rakhine, the Rohingya refugee bulge and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) resurgence are some of the many uncertainties.

While the Myanmar Army – the Tatmadaw has implemented a ceasefire with select groups in the North East, the prospects of these joining the Nation Wide Ceasefire agreement (NCA) is unclear. Here is a detailed track of these challenges.

Firstly civil military relations, Myanmar’s Parliament approved a proposal to form a joint committee on constitutional reform. National League for Democracy (NLD) Upper House Lawmaker U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee, submitted a proposal to form a joint committee comprising suitable lawmakers from the Union Parliament for amending the military-drafted 2008 Constitution as per reports in the Irrawaddy.

The 2008 Constitution has been widely criticized as undemocratic, particularly for its stipulation that 25 percent of the seats in Parliament be reserved for unelected military representatives. The Constitution also restricts Aung Suu Kyi from the office of the President as she married a foreigner, clause 59 (f) bars NLD leader and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming Union president. More over constitutional reform was one of the NLD-led government’s key  agenda along with enhancing rule of law and ending the ethnic conflict.

This is not the only point of difference between the NLD and the military. The military is also suspected to have leaked response of Aung Suu Kyi where she and President Win Myint directed the Tatmadaw to “crush the terrorists,” [Arakan Army] after attacks launched by the group  on 04 January in a coordinating conference held on 7 January. This led to friction between the government and the Tatmadaw with the latter suspected of allowing the directions of the NLD leader to crush the terrorists leaked to the media.

The AA has undertaken an aggressive course effectively putting the venerable Tatmadaw on the local defensive. On Myanmar’s Independence Day on 4 January, the group launched coordinated attacks on four police outposts in northern Rakhine State, killing thirteen officers and injuring nine others as per the International Crisis Group. Six border guard police officers were wounded in an ambush by the Arakan Army (AA) in northern Rakhine State, according to Myanmar Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Lin Tun. This comes after an attempted IED on the convoy of the Rakhine Chief Minister from the NLD.

The ARSA has also become active after lying low post 2017. In continuing violence by the ARSA, six policemen, including one police colonel, were wounded during an ambush in Maungdaw Township. ARSA had also mounted an attack near Maungdaw’s Wat Kyein Village on Jan. 16 when artillery shelling wounded three officers in a two-hour assault on a police post in northern Maungdaw Township according to the General Administration Department (GAD).    

The four month cease fire declared by the Myanmar military from Dec. 21, 2018 to April, 30 2019 continues with the Army  issuing directions to the militant groups to return to own areas by 12 February, how far the Ethnic Armed Organisations will be willing to join the NCA remains to be seen?

Meanwhile the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee has cast doubts on the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, while Dhaka has protested accusations by Nay Pyi Taw of support to the ARSA and AA.

How the Myanmar Government is able to resolve these issues in 2019 remains to be seen?