Myanmar junta chief asks former Thai junta chief for help with ‘democratic process’

File images of Prayuth Chan-ocha, at left, and Min Aung Hlaing, at right.
File images of Prayuth Chan-ocha, at left, and Min Aung Hlaing, at right.

The Thai prime minister who seized power in a coup said he’s received a letter from the Myanmar general who just seized power in a coup, asking for his support “to cement the democratic process.”

At the Government House today, PM Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters that he received a six-page personal letter from the supreme commander of Myanmar’s army, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday explaining Myanmar’s situation and his need to seize power in the Feb. 1 coup, repeating unfounded army claims the election was “not free and fair.”

Like Prayuth, Min Aung Hlaing framed himself as a reluctant dictator, who was also forced to install himself above the nation with absolute power by circumstances.

According to Prayuth, the letter’s main thrust was to seek Prayuth’s support for efforts by the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is called, to achieve democracy – support which Prayuth said Min Aung Hlaing already has.

“I already do support [Myanmar’s democratic process] but it’s their business what they will do next,” Prayuth said this morning. “What we need to do today, though, is to maintain our good relationship as much as possible because it affects the people especially economic and cross-border trade aspects which are important at this moment.”

The Tatmadaw, which in the past cemented its villain role by sending in the soldiers to gun down protesting civilians could learn – and likely already has – a lot from Thailand.

It appears to have taken a page or two from the Thai military dictatorship playbook in recent days. Instead of murdering its own people, the military there has instead hid behind a thin grey line of civilian police officers deployed with colorful, friendly neckerchiefs instead of weapons.  (Ed. note: That approach may have changed given Wednesday reports that two protesters in the capital of Naypyidaw were in critical condition after being shot by police.)

Police outside Yangon City Hall on Monday. Photo: Coconuts
Police outside Yangon City Hall on Monday. Photo: Coconuts

Echoing Prayuth’s own assertions in the aftermath of his coup seven years ago, Min Aung Hlaing’s letter said he wants to set the country on a path to democracy, Prayuth said. 

It repeated the after-the-fact justification that while the Tatmadaw did not object to the results of November’s election (in which its party suffered a humiliating defeat) it was salty at election officials and the ruling National League for Democracy party for causing friction.

Prayuth doubtless has some lessons there as well: Before the 2019 election, he replaced everyone on Thailand’s Election Commission and rewrote the rules to neutralize the most popular political parties.

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