Burma’s commander-in-chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing defended the military's continued role in national politics during a speech to commemorate Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on Tuesday.
In his first speech as army chief to mark the 67th anniversary of resistance against the Japanese during World War II, Min Aung Hlaing said that the military has an obligation to defend the Constitution and will continue to take part in politics as it has done in the past.
Min Aung Hlaing replaced previous army chief Sen-Gen Than Shwe last year when the former ruling military junta handed over power to a nominally-civilian government.
The armed forces under his leadership, also known as the Tatmadaw, has been suspected of opposing the democratic reforms put forward by President Thein Sein's administration.
But Min Aung Hlaing rejected such suspicions by saying that “while the county is marching towards democracy, the Tatmadaw will support the functions of government.”
He also added that the army is following the results of peace talks between the government and armed ethnic minorities.
The Burmese military was recently accused of ignoring Thein Sein's orders to obey a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army rebel group in northern Burma.
Under the controversial 2008 Constitution, the army has its own military tribunals independent of civilian jurisdiction.
With an estimated strength of 400,000 personnel, the Burmese military also controls 25 percent of seats in both houses of the Union Parliament and the regional assemblies. This means it effectively has a veto over constitutional amendments, which require the support of more than 75 percent of Parliament.
Final decisions on all government policies are believed to be made by the 11-member National Defense and Security Council—a seemingly paramount body that includes the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the defense minister and three other senior military officials.
Informed sources have told The Irrawaddy that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is widely expected to win a parliamentary seat in Sunday's by-elections, will submit proposals to Parliament pushing for constitutional amendments that will cut down the military's role in politics.