Myanmar's Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar salutes the national flag during a ceremony marking the country's 67th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's army commander defended the military's active role in government on Tuesday and said he will protect the nation's pro-military constitution.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said soldiers who serve as lawmakers are working for "the interest of the country ... performing the duty of national politics" by participating in parliament, where the military is allotted 25 percent of the seats.
The commander was speaking to more than 10,000 troops at an event marking Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the date in 1945 when the army rose up against Japanese occupiers during World War II.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the allocation of parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military is undemocratic. She has said some parts of the constitution, which was written under the former military junta, should be amended.
Suu Kyi is running in a pivotal by-election April 1 in which she is poised to win a national assembly seat. The ballot is seen as a crucial test of whether the government is committed to democratic change.
President Thein Sein's administration has embarked on a series of dramatic reforms since inheriting power from the country's long-ruling military junta, which ceded power last year. Those reforms include releasing hundreds of political prisoners, easing media censorship and opening a dialogue with Suu Kyi.
Min Aung Hlaing said the military, which ruled for 49 years, played a critical role in keeping the nation stable.
He said the military is duty-bound to safeguard the constitution.
"We, the military along with the people, will respect and safeguard the constitution which is the lifeline of the country," Min Aung Hlaing said.