Armed Forces Day

Opposite Naypyitaw’s military parade ground in Zeyathiri, a familiar-looking red billboard reads:

Tatmadaw and the people cooperate and crush all those harming the Union.”

This sign marks Myanmar’s 71st Armed Forces Day, where the Tatmadaw will march down Naypyitaw’s military parade ground on 27 March 2016.

Military parades are an opportunity to boast capabilities and new acquisitions. This year the parade will showcase the Tatmadaw’s military capabilities, including Chinese SH1 155mm self-propelled howitzers, PTL-02 tank destroyers and mobile surface-to-air missile systems, including the Chinese HQ-12/KS-1A and the Russian Pechora-2M.

Spectators will include the families of Tatmadaw officers and generals, foreign military attaches and other special guests, along with some 102 journalists.

At the entrance of the military parade ground, the objectives of the 71st Armed Forces Day are written on another red billboard:

  • To safeguard the three main national causes, national responsibilities according to the constitution.
  • To cooperate hand in hand between Tatmadaw and all nationalities to get real peace for everlasting from cease firing.
  • To cooperate among Government, Hluttaw, Tatmadaw and all nationalities in performing of Nation’s fundamental needs: stability, national solidarity and development of the Nation.
  • To build up the well-developed Army to protect effectively the national sovereignty and motherland.

More signs and flags marked with military insignia hang above a road between Zeyathiri’s Pin Laung Junction to the entrance of the parade ground:

  • Tatmadaw is keeping four noble truths and three capabilities.
  • We contribute all-round support to be powerful.
  • Tatmadaw and the people in eternal unity, anyone attempting to divide them is our enemy.
  • The strength of the nation lies only within.
  • No matter who tries to divide us, we will always remain united.

As Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party prepare to move into Naypyitaw’s ministerial offices, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s most formidable force of power and authority and Daw Suu’s arch-rival, the Armed Forces will be on the parade ground, marking their achievements of national unity, sovereignty and solidarity.

In the context of Myanmar’s political reforms, Andrew Selth shows in a recent study that the Myanmar government has made great efforts to professionalise its armed forces making them more capable and respected both domestically and internationally. Reforms have included a major arms acquisition program, which have benefited the Tatmadaw’s order of battle and combat capabilities. As a means to break from the past, such reforms are geared to create a “world-class Tatmadaw”.

While the Tatmadaw have reduced their role in government, they still have an enormous amount of power to make life difficult for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. The 71st Armed Forces Day is a reminder that the Tatmadaw are the most powerful political institution in Myanmar.

Olivia Cable is at the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. Her research focuses on politics and society in Naypyitaw. She will be live-tweeting from the military parade ground on 27 March 2016. Twitter: @ojcable.