Martial law was unlikely to be declared in Myanmar in circumstances similar to that in which it was imposed in Thailand earlier this week, Defence Minister Lieutenant-General Wai Lwin said in Nay Pyi Taw on May 20.

“I believe our country will not succumb to the same troubles seen in Thailand,” Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said at a news conference after chairing the annual meeting of defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He was referring to the decision by the Thai army on May 19 to declare martial law throughout the country amid an increasingly tense political crisis following months of protests between supporters and opponents of the government.

“Here in Myanmar, we are following a process of open democratic reform,” Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said.

“The people’s grievances and complaints can be aired openly in the hluttaw and we have a system of the right to free speech and to demonstrate,” he said.

The minister was responding to a question from Mizzima, which had referred to the big rallies  in support of constitutional reform held in Yangon and Mandalay last weekend and asked if there was any likelihood of martial law being declared in Myanmar.

The demonstrations, organised jointly by the National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society movement, had included calls to amend Article 436 of the 2008 Constitution, which gives unelected military members of the hluttaw an effective veto over changes to the charter.

The large media contingent at the news conference was told that only three questions would be allowed about the meeting, but two were asked, one about the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the other from Mizzima.

Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said Vietnam’s defence minister had told the meeting that Hanoi would seek to peacefully resolve what he described as an issue of sovereignty.

Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said the dispute in South China Sea was a complex political issue involving many countries.

He said the issue was not new and the ASEAN’s position on the dispute was reflected in the statement issued by its leaders after their summit in Nay Pyi Taw on May 11.

The statement, known as the Nay Pyi Taw Declaration, called for the “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in accordance with recognised principles of international law and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

As well as China’s claim to the South China Sea, it contains territory that is claimed in whole or in part by ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as by Taiwan.