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NLD throws support behind chief minister in war of words against military

FILE PHOTO from 2012: Then opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, gives a speech as Phyo Min Thein (2nd R), NLD party's candidate for Hlegu township, acknowledges the crowd at a stadium in Rangoon, 15 February 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Nyan Win, one of the spokespersons for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), has thrown his support behind Rangoon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thien in what has become a war of words with the Office of Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing over the military leader’s ranking in the national protocol.

Nyan Win told DVB today that the chief minister has the right to exercise his freedom of expression, and noted that the government did not intend intervening or calling a meeting over the complaint filed against him by the military commander’s office.

“The [NLD] party has no intention of intervening to solve this issue,” he said by telephone. “However, I would like to say that a chief minister has every right to express his opinion. Both the chief minister and the commander-in-chief are heads of staffs, in the same way that director generals are heads of staff.”

The veteran party spokesman’s comments come a day after the Office of the Commander-in-Chief announced that it had filed a complaint with the government concerning Phyo Min Thein’s remarks on 9 July when he told a civil society workshop that “There are no civil-military relations in the democratic era,” and that any military administration must always be under a civilian government.

The Rangoon regional chief minister also reportedly stated that the position of commander-in-chief has the same raking in protocol as a director-general, sparking much media and social media debate about the government’s protocol ranking system.

Phyo Min Thein rose swiftly through the ranks of the NLD, having only joined the party in 2012. A former physics student and activist during the time of the 1988 uprising, he spent 15 years behind bars as a political prisoner. He was then hand-picked by Aung San Suu Kyi to take on the pivotal role as Rangoon chief minister in 2016 – a job that has been central to a few controversies, most notably an alleged real estate corruption scandal; the Rangoon bus service fiasco; and the issue of conserving the city’s colonial heritage buildings.

Meanwhile, Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the Office of the State Counsellor, confirmed that a letter of complaint had been received last night, but reaffirmed that the government did not plan to investigate further.

“We are not doing anything yet with regards to that complaint and I cannot say anything else,” he said.

But political analyst Than Soe Naing said that the Rangoon chief minister’s remarks were out of line, and that he should not be making comments about military matters, noting that it is a sensitive issue.

“The policy of national reconciliation is currently very important. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be the one who addresses the military’s complaint,” he said.

According to Burmese government protocol, the country’s commander-in-chief is ranked Level 8.  Regional chief ministers, such as Phyo Min Thein, are ranked at 19.