Myanmar military denies coup threats over vote fraud claims

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military on Saturday denied its chief was threatening to stage a coup over complaints of election fraud, saying the media had misinterpreted his words.

Political tension in the Southeast Asian nation soared this past week after a spokesman for the military, which had ruled Myanmar for five decades, said a coup could not be ruled out if its complaints of widespread fraud in November’s election were ignored.

The commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, told senior officers in a speech Wednesday that the constitution could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced. Adding to the concern was the unusual deployment of armored vehicles in the streets of several large cities.

Saturday’s statement from the military, known as the Tatmadaw, said that “some organizations and media” wrote without foundation that the military threatened to revoke the constitution. The statement said Min Aung Hlaing’s speech was taken out of context, and was actually an observation to senior officer trainees on the nature of the constitution.

The ruling National League for Democracy party captured 396 out of 476 seats in the Nov. 8 election, allowing it to form a government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for another five years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 33 seats.

The military has publicly complained several times of electoral fraud and called on the government and the Union Election Commission to review the results. It has said it has found 8.6 million irregularities in voter lists in 314 townships that could have let voters cast multiple ballots or commit other “voting malpractice.”

The election commission said there was no evidence to support the fraud claims.

Parliament’s new session is set to open Monday in the capital Naypyitaw.

The military ran Myanmar for some 50 years before beginning a transitioning to democracy in 2010. The current constitution ensures the country’s generals maintain considerable influence in the country’s affairs by guaranteeing them a quarter of the seats in parliament and control of a number of key ministries.

Alarmed diplomatic missions in Myanmar reacted Friday to the military’s statements by issuing a joint statement urging calm.

“We urge the military, and all other parties in the country, to adhere to democratic norms, and we oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition,” said the statement issued by the EU, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and others.

Peaceful protests have been held in the past few days by supporters of the military and the Union Solidarity and Development Party. In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, about 1,000 demonstrators gathered Saturday next to the famous Shwedagon pagoda.

The military has not been alone in criticizing the election.

Independent rights groups before and after the polls criticized the disenfranchisement of Rohingya Muslims and the cancellation of the vote in some areas.

The election commission cited the dangers of ongoing combat between government forces and ethnic minority guerrillas, but critics suggested specific areas were singled out for cancellation because they were certain to elect lawmakers from parties hostile to Suu Kyi’s government.

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Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.

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