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Myanmar Crisis

Myanmar military appoints ministers after ousting Suu Kyi in coup

NLD leader's big win in November election triggers army to act

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of Myanmar's armed forces.   © Reuters

YANGON/ BANGKOK -- After ousting the democratically elected government in a coup d'etat on Monday, Myanmar's military got on with the task of naming a new cabinet.

Many of the 11 ministers appointed served in the administration of former President Thein Sein from 2011 to 2016 -- a time when foreign investment flowed into a country that was becoming a fledgling democracy.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing appointed Wunna Maung Lwin to his previous position of foreign minister, and Finance Minister Win Shein was appointed as Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry, according to military-affiliated television.

The military also appointed Aung Naing Oo, who served in both Thein Sein's cabinet and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, as Minister of Investment and External Economic Relations. The appointment of the experienced minister shows the military appears to be seeking to minimize the negative impact of a potential fall in foreign investment.

The military took full control of the country on Monday, detaining Suu Kyi, and declaring the November general election as void. While it pledged to hold fresh polls, the undiminished popularity of Suu Kyi's NLD means it would struggle to compete in free and fair elections.

The NLD's executive committee on Tuesday called for the release of Suu Kyi and President Win Myint along with others detained "as soon as possible," in a statement posted on a verified Facebook page of party official May Win Myint. The statement also called for recognition of the results of November's election won by the NLD and for the parliament session, due to start this week, to be held.

The NLD won of 80% of competed seats in November. Even taking into account the non-elected military seats, which account for a quarter of those in parliament, Suu Kyi's party won a majority.

But the constitution imposed by the military in 2008 requires a three-fourths majority in parliament to be amended -- as Suu Kyi had pledged to do. This gives the army a veto, effectively guaranteeing its political power.

Despite not living up to promises to amend the top law, make progress in peace talks and boost the economy, the NLD managed to win more seats than in the previous 2015 election.

Min Aung Hlaing said just before the elections that preparations had not been fair, but many voters felt that the army was trying to interfere and felt compelled to support the NLD.

The election underscored the public's antipathy toward the military, which wants to protect its permanent involvement in politics. So the military may have felt threatened by Suu Kyi's popularity, and public support for her constitutional proposals.

Myanmar military armored vehicles drive on a street in Mandalay, Myanmar on Feb. 2.    © Reuters

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi focused on political stability in her first term, but was expected to push harder for constitutional change in her second.

She is also embroiled in peace negotiations with armed ethnic groups. Myanmar is home to 135 ethnic groups, and since its independence in 1948, the military has fought with more than 20 ethnic armed groups that oppose the Burmese-led central government.

Suu Kyi had proposed the introduction of a "true federal system" that would grant a certain amount of autonomy to ethnic minorities for the sake of peace.

"Suu Kyi's plan was to amend the constitution by gaining political clout through peace talks," said Toshihiro Kudo, a professor at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, citing the need for the army to take part in negotiations.

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