Do Tin Aye’s words meet the six qualities of an elder?

Nay Htun Naing

There is a propaganda song I still remember for I have heard it several times in last 15-20 years.

That song's main verse goes, "We don't care economic sanctions. Our land has abundant natural resources".

The song namely 'Myanmar’s will' was written by a writer under a pseudonym 'Do Ye Baw' and sung by Yebaw (private) Naing Win.

It was said that former General Khin Nyunt made the state-run media broadcast the song repeatedly.

It was said that former Senior General Than Shwe loved that song very much, so did other high-ranking military personnel.

Military chiefs did believe that the things will go according to the verses included in the song. They replied that what is to care with the economic sanctions.

Of course, they were not afraid of economic sanctions as they became rich after all. Only the country and the general public ended being buried deep in poverty.

It is easy to observe how much they got prosperous. For example, Khin Nyunt's property sums at least US$10 million after he was released from prison.

Not only him, take a look at the military chiefs, ministers and their family members that led State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1989, and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. Their numbers count around 500.

Although the public becomes deprived, the group of elites has become filthily rich. They still live on as rich and privileged persons.

They never see the economic sanction offensive. They think the natural resources are just reserved for them not for the people.

Don’t care about 100 times of sanctions

The disregard of economic sanction formerly existed only in the song. But now, it has been spoken.

The man who spoke these words is former Lieutenant General Tin Aye, chairperson of Union Election Commission (UEC).

"…I don’t even care if they impose sanctions against Myanmar 100 times...," he said at the press conference at Myanmar Peace Centre on June 8.

The press conference was about the compiling voter lists but he said something unrelated with the topic.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) sent an open letter over the errors in the basic voter lists on June 3. The US Senator Mitch McConnell warned against that the following day.

The NLD pointed out the mistakes in the voter list. McConnell warned that the relationship between Myanmar and the US would be harmed if the election failed to reflect people's will. The two subjects are not related and planned in advance.

But Tin Aye linked the two subjects, and reckoned the case as the international pressure induced by NLD and responded it.

On the other hand, the UEC sent notification letters to all the political parties – except NLD – stressing to cooperate to make the voter list right.

Tin Aye could give logical explanation, but instead he lashed out at the NLD. This shows how much grudge he had towards the NLD, because he gave such feuded replies to NLD for three times already.

In addition, his grudge could raise concerns about the cancellation of the election, and it also be meaning that the post electoral situation is unguaranteed.

How rich Tin Aye is

Before analysing Tin Aye's comments, the question of 'How rich is he?' should be answered first, because he said he were not afraid of the economic sanctions since he and his family are well-off.

He himself had chaired the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding Limited for years.

He is a father of three: two of them are Okkar Aye and Zaw Min Aye, well-known in the economic circle.

Zaw Min Aye alone is rich enough to run four companies including Moe San Pan Group.

His children were said to involve in some profit of a vast plot of land in Thingangyun Township. By seeing that they rent estates to other business owners, it is clear how many estates they own.

The business people estimate that the possessions of his family worth hundred million dollar. He only knows the exact number.

His sons have connected to nine or ten companies, but none of them appeared in the government's top taxpayers list.

It is believable by seeing his assets that Tin Aye is not bothered by the economic sanction. But it is right just for military chiefs like Tin Aye.

Limits by the power

Let's look back at what Tin Aye talked about in last three years.

The NLD won in the 2012 by-election. Tin Aye blamed the election campaign works that time.

"The election campaign was so uncontrolled that it didn't even look like one. It was like demonstration; the whole scene reminded me of the '88 uprising. The people were with forehead bands, and there were five-star banners too. No one opposed that act. If someone did, I would give them a loss. Do oppose them in 2015 and I would give them a loss," he said on April 7, 2014, in Pathein.

He continued saying that he would limit the campaign activity, time, and place in the 2015 election.

"I will set the election campaign period in coming election. I will listen only to what the candidates say. I will limit time, people, and place this time. This is within my power."

He meant he would confine the candidate to conduct campaign in their constituency only.

This refers to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been going around the country giving speech on behalf of her party. The meaning is that a candidate may only hold campaign in their constituency.

But after one year, Tin Aye said that is not what he meant in the interview featured in Myanmar Times Journal's June 10 issue.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the party chairperson. She has the right to conduct a campaign because she has to say as a party chairperson. People misunderstood and criticised me. The candidates have to hold campaigns themselves," he said it in the interview.

Although the public criticised his comments, he keep speaking recklessly. Tin Aye made a similar comment in December that year.

Coup will follow uprising

His comment in December 2014 was worse than the previous one; he said the things that were not suited with the election commission chairperson.

"There will be a coup, if there is any upheaval," he said on December 16, 2014, at the Micasa Hotel.

Although the 25 per cent of seats by military personnel in the Parliament is to prevent from the coup, such happening is unavoidable if there is some uprising, according to Tin Aye.

There were no order, rule of law, and the military was offended in 1988, and therefore the military mounted a coup inevitably, he said.

Moreover the NLD scored a landslide in the 1990 election but the military was unable to hand the power as the NLD hold a grudge, Tin Aye accused.

There was no constitution to hand the power back then. The national convention was called to draft the constitution in 1993 and was disbanded in 1996. It was organised again in 2006 and the referendum was held in 2008. Then the military has taken 25 per cent of the seats in the Parliament to oversee it so that there will not be another military coup, Tine Aye said.

But who gave promises such as we will return to the barracks after the election, take the constitution as you like or draw a new one or use the old one after some amendments, the military does not want to be a villain in the history?

Did Tin Aye not really know who have those empty promises or did he pretend like he did not know and say these words knowingly? Tin Aye himself will know the truth.

Tin Aye does not seem wanting to correct the mistakes. He repeated the words that they only did right things in the June 10 interview with the Myanmar Times.

"There is disciplined democracy. It will collapse if it is uncontrolled. The restrictions will be eased steadily. It is up to the degree of your motives. You can't build Rome overnight. But if you really want to build one, do not interrupt the process. We wanted to hand the power since 1990. If they were clever, I think, things would go smoothly since 1995-96. We can't give much freedom unless we are disciplined enough for democracy. That's why we are here to check things. It's not like we want to do this," he said.

Such words infer that the people have no rights to ask for and just to be content with what they give. This is simply not the thing to say for an election referee.

The line, 'We can't give much freedom unless we are disciplined enough for democracy' means that if things do not go as they expect, they will give no democracy. It also means the post-electoral era is uninsured.

Tin Aye was not among the coup leaders in 1988. But let's not forget he is a supporter of dictatorship.

Becoming more like ex-General Khin Nyunt

For now, Tin Aye does not look like an election commission chairperson and becoming more like former General Khin Nyunt who said unabashedly that the state power could not be handed to the winning party on various press conferences.

Senior General Saw Maung, the coup leader, said that he would return the state power to the people after the 1990 election. He and other coup leaders broke their promises after the election.

The two who broke the promise verbally were Saw Maung and then Secretary-1 Major-General Khin Nyunt, especially Khin Nyunt.

What Tin Aye now said is the same with those Khin Nyunt said. The only difference is that the former one controlled his words and the latter did not.

They both lashed out at the NLD party and its supporters.

The chairperson of 1990 election commission was U Ba Htay. He was not like Tin Aye; he did not talk about the things beyond his concerns. He did what he had to do, and therefore the '90 election was as free and fair as an election can be.

But what made the election soiled was that they did not hand the power as they promised.

In the '90 election, Khin Nyunt took action against the political parties by accusing them undisciplined.

This is exactly what Tin aye wants to do now.

Therefore Tin Aye is now trying to follow the way Khin Nyunt walked, and he is like a referee who is eager to show red card to a football team before the match starts.

Mind your own business

What Tin Aye should be doing now is not retorting. He should be doing what he needs to do.

He just needs to check and correct if there is any mistakes in basic voter list as NLD pointed out. He is not obliged to retort at the NLD.

It is wrong for him to blame NLD for pointing out the mistakes among the various parties. The other parties bend between the sides where the situation is more favourable.

The NLD said the basic voter list contained 30-80 per cent mistakes. What NLD said was not wrong.

Errors in the basic voter lists are widespread not only in Yangon but also in other regions. Those errors can be found in names, dates of birth and number of national identity cards. Moreover, names of those died over 10 years ago are on the voter lists while personal data of some voters do not match those in their household registrations.

In Shan State, 75 percent errors are reported and according to local sources, other regions and states see more than 50 percent errors.

For the time being, it is really necessary to make correct voter lists. Then it is important to ensure a free and fair election. Without correct voter lists, elections cannot be free and fair.

Just announcing errors in voter lists is not enough. Action rather than words is necessary because there are just more than four months left to hold the general election.

Having inadequate budget and skilled electoral staff is not a good reason. Tin Aye, as a veteran soldier, will know very well that he must do his duty he has taken.

The UEC has been given all necessary wherewithals such as time, money and international assistance. So it should not give unreasonable reasons and blame public voters for errors in the voter lists.

We see two difficulties in ensuring that we have correct voter lists. The first is a short duration of voter list announcement. When there are many errors, it is not enough to give 14 days to announce the voter lists. The second point is that when errors are reported, there is a short supply of application forms.

The reason why the 14 days is not enough can be found in the first and second announcements of voter lists.

Having no knowledge of the announcement, some people did not go and check the voter lists while some others were away or on a trip. The situation could worsen in far-flung areas. Although voter lists could be seen online, internet users in Myanmar are limited. They will have to wait for the last announcement.

Voter lists are due to be announced two times. The first announcement takes 14 days. If there are errors, a correction must be made.

The last announcement after correction takes seven days only. This is the last chance for public voters. But the time is very limited.

If we fail to check the last announcement and correct errors in the voter lists, we will have no more chance at all. Both the 14- and seven-day announcements are limited for public voters.

As there are many errors, it is necessary to announce basic voter lists till hours before the elections and pave the way for voters to correct any mistakes. Another point is to issue enough application forms for correction.

Abovementioned difficulties are mainly reported in some townships and village-tracts. Local residents in those areas find it difficult to correct mistakes. There is no one to help them. In some areas, locals reported no supply or shortages of forms for voter list correction.

Ensuring convenience in Yangon rather than in the whole country is not enough.

Basic voter lists will also be announced in Rakhine and Kachin states soon. We need to wait and see how many white card (temporary national identity card) holders will be on the list especially in Rakhine State.

Tin Aye’s position of UEC chairman is called into question if he continues to talk about nonsense beyond his business.

He is an ex-member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). He and President Thein Sein are close friends. He also obtained this current position after he was nominated by the president.

The position of UEC chairman questionable

In the 2010 elections, Tin Aye was elected as a lower house MP after competing in the Tada-U township constituency in Mandalay Region. Thein Sein nominated him as UEC chairman one day after he resigned as MP. Such position is controversial as well as doubtful.

Last November, local people in Monywa, Sagaing Region, demanded he resign as UEC chairman.

Under the current 2008 constitution, a person shall be neither a political party member nor parliamentarian if he is appointed to be chairman of the UEC. But local demands came as Tin Aye was assumed to be a USDP member at the time he was appointed UEC chairman. However, demands for his resignation were not met.

Was the law manipulated?

UEC chairperson and members are elected in accordance with section 398 of the constitution.

Sub-section 5 of section 398 says chairman and members of the UEC shall be persons who shall be not relevant with the provisions for disqualification of election as the lower house representative. Meanwhile, they shall not be a member of a political party as per sub-section 7; they shall not be a parliamentary representative as per sub-section 8; and they shall not be a person who accepts the position that entitles salary, allowance or money as per sub-section 9.  

Studying those points, the law seemed to have been manipulated to appoint Tin Aye as UEC chairman. Just days before he obtained that position, he was a political party member and parliamentarian accepting salary and allowance. He took the post just one day after his resignation.

President Thein Sein nominated him as UEC chairman and parliament approved it. Tin Aye was a hard-core member of USDP and has close friendship with the president. He was ranked No.6 under the previous military government. After Senior General Than Shwe and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, he is as influential as Thura Shwe Mann, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Thein Sein.

Tin Aye did not become a politician although he was a parliamentary representative when he retired from the army as lieutenant general. He himself admitted to that.

In an interview conducted by Myanmar Times on June 8, Tin Aye said he did not know what USDP was and who its chairman was although he was elected parliamentary representative for the party.

“I dare to compete in any filed—political, defense or economic. Some even say I became a USDP member because I was a military general. I really want to laugh at this. I had no knowledge of the former Union Solidarity and Development Association. I didn’t know who the chairman was. As I was asked to run for election in 2010, I became a member of that party in August. I was a seven-month-old party member but my military experience is 47 years,” Tin Aye told Myanmar Times.

Without knowledge of USDP, he became a party member and parliamentarian. It seems that he did what his superiors had asked.

The question of why he has become UEC chairman without knowledge of the election commission should also be raised. If he replies that he does what his superiors have asked, he will have uncertainties after the 2015 election. His duty and accountability are not reliable.

Despite it being in line with the law

All Tin Aye has said seems to be reckless. He has the right to say that he is acting within the framework of law.

Under the constitution or the Union Election Commission Law, his commission has the right to control political parties.

The duties and powers of the UEC include supervising, causing to supervise and guiding the political parties. However, making severe critical remarks are taking action are not included. Different stances towards different parties cannot be shown (one stance towards USDP and another stance towards NLD or other parties).

One point can be seen in the open letter NLD sent to the commission on June 3. In the letter, NLD said that signboards reading “Pyi-Khine-Phyo” towns or villages (named after the ruling party) are found in some states and regions. The UEC is therefore urged to supervise dealing with that matter, the letter said.

Tin Aye, however, replied that it was none of his business.

The letter also alleged that some ruling party members distributed photoshopped pictures to harm the image of Aung San Suu Kyi during her trip to Mon State in May. The letter said it was in breach of Section 6(c) of the Political Parties Registration Law. For that also, Tin Aye did nothing in his capacity.

Have the qualities required for an elder?

It is questionable whether Tin Aye meets the qualities required for an elder. He is chairman of the UEC. As the commission leader, he must have the six qualities of an elder. He must act fair and square without showing any bias.

The six qualities of an elder are alertness, industrious, mercy, patience, sound judgment and vision.

An elder must have patience with cases that are tolerable. He must stay alert in everything he does. He must be more industrious than his subordinates. He must not show unilateral criticisms. He must show mercy for his subordinates and have sound judgment.

In addition to the six qualities of an elder, there are also the six non-qualities of an elder—being like a crab, chameleon, bamboo, tortoise, red bull and hyena.  

An elder should not be boasting (his powers) like a crab that boasts its pincers, nor should he always nods like a chameleon, sway to different sides like a bamboo, toil for himself like a tortoise, be reckless like a bull, nor should he be cunning like a hyena.

We need to question whether Tin Aye has the six qualities of an elder as he is chairman of the UEC.

If he has the six non-qualities of an elder, we could accuse him of being immoral.

As per Sub-section (3) of Section 400 of the constitution under the title “Impeachment of the Chairman or the members of the Union Election Commission”, he could be dismissed from his post as UEC chairman for misconduct.

Now is the time to decide the fate of Tin Aye. The forthcoming election is only four months away. If he continues to act inconsiderately, it is not good for the country.

Tin Aye himself has to decide whether he will continue to take the chair of UEC in line with the six qualities of an elder or act to the contrary.