NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Myanmar's powerful military commander pledged Friday to support the holding of successful elections in November, calling them "an important landmark for democracy," and warned that the army will not tolerate instability or armed threats.
The national elections will be the first held by the semi-civilian government that swept to power after a 2010 vote widely seen as rigged in favor of the military-backed rulers.
"The general election which is going to be held in the early days of November 2015 represents an important landmark for democracy implementation in our country," commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech to more than 10,000 troops on Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the day the army rose up against Japanese occupiers during World War II some 70 years ago.
"Any disturbance to stability of the state and prevalence of law, any armed pressure or any threats against voting won't be allowed," he said.
Critics say that even under the best circumstances it will be difficult to view the upcoming polls as free or fair. The constitution guarantees the army 25 percent of all parliamentary seats and other special political powers. And the most popular politician, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for the presidency because her late husband and sons are foreign citizens.
Meanwhile, the government has been unable to reach a conclusive peace agreement with armed ethnic minority groups fighting in border regions. And members of the long-persecuted Rohingya minority — labeled illegal migrants by the government — will most likely not be allowed to vote.
Min Aung Hlaing said the army is "risking the lives and limbs" of its officers and troops to achieve stability in border areas.
Ongoing clashes with ethnic Kokang rebels in Myanmar's northeast, close to China, have killed hundreds of government troops and caused tension with neighboring China after stray shells reportedly fell into Chinese territory and killed five people.