Military Coup in Myanmar: What is Happening and Why?

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“A Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people”

This famous quote by Abraham Lincoln clarifies that a bona fide democracy, inter alia, must extend to all its citizens, equal rights and duties, such that they have the freedom to express their opinions. It must entrust the voters with the right to choose and change their representatives. 

However, General Min Aung Hlaing of Myanmar (also known as Burma) seems to have either overlooked or forgotten Lincoln’s wisdom as he led the internationally criticised military coup in Myanmar on February 1 2021, to replace the democratically elected government led by Noble laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in house arrest ever since. General Hlaing is currently serving his tenth year of service as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces. He urged the entire nation to join hands with the Tatmadaw (the local term used for Myanmar Army) for the successful realization of democracy.

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The irony here is quite evident. This coup literally translates into staged destruction of the democracy, to defend democracy. It reversed almost a decade of headway towards democracy following 50 years of military rule which has led to widespread protests across the country.

Introduction

Myanmar is a South-east Asian country with a population of about 54 million. It shares boundaries with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Most residents of Myanmar are Burmese speakers. The major religion is Buddhism. Though there are numerous indigenous minorities including Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar was formerly known as Burma. The ruling military altered the name of the nation from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. However, many countries (like the UK) refused to recognise the new name as a way to deny legitimacy to the impugned military government. However, with time, the use of “Myanmar” has become widespread and even Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has legitimized it saying that the name does no matter.

A brief political history of Myanmar

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Myanmar acquired independence from British Rule on 4 January 1989. It has been subjected to tyrannical army rule from 1962 to 2011, following which there was a gradual transition towards democracy. 

In 2015, a government led by Ms. Suu Kyi (who has diligently campaigned for democracy in Myanmar and was in house arrest for over 15 years) took over the reins, following a victory in Myanmar’s first free and fair elections in 25 years. The National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Ms. Suu Kyi again came to power in 2020, this time managing to win even more votes than in 2015. This lucidly depicts the prevalent will of the people of Myanmar.

However, the opposition, sullen by its outright loss, alleged the incumbent government of using unfair means to acquire majority votes. They, thus, demanded a rerun of the votes. The Election Commission, though, dismissed the allegations by citing inadequate evidence to prove the allegations.

What led to the coup?

The military-led by General Min Aung Hlaing supported the oppositions’ claims of widespread fraud. It is important to mention here that, while majority rule had been established by then, the military still enjoyed considerable authority. Thus, when the NLD once again came to power in 2020, that too by a landslide victory, the military stepped in to assume power again. 

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The military staged the coup in the wee hours of Monday morning, just before a new session of parliament was set to open, detaining Ms. Suu Kyi and several other members of NLD.  They declared a year-long state of emergency, with a fickle promise of ‘free and fair’ elections afterwards. General Hlaing justified the coup as an attempt to reinstate ‘disciplined democracy’ in the nation and as a response to ‘embezzled’ elections.

The Aftermath

The NLD has demanded the freedom of Ms. Suu Kyi instantaneously. They have also mandated the military to restore democracy by accepting the results of November 2020 elections as the will of the majority. Thousands of protestors took to the street in Yangon (their biggest city) and elsewhere in Myanmar, demanding that their civilian government and their democratic rights, including the right to protest, be restored. The Police though tried to pacify the protests using water cannons and rubber bullets.

Undeterred, the doctors in government hospitals have threatened to stall their services stating that they cannot work under a military dictator who does not care about the country and the people. On the contrary, the military has established its rule by replacing MPs. Many ministers including those in health, finance, interior and foreign affairs have been substituted.

International Reaction 

The much-assailed coup has been internationally condemned. The organisations like the UN and the EU have strongly criticised these recent developments. The President of the United States, Joe Biden, has warned to reinstate sanctions on Myanmar if the will of people is overruled. New Zealand has severed all military and political ties with the nation. The immediate neighbours of Myanmar have, however, imparted more nuanced reactions. Countries like Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines have regarded it as an “internal matter”. India has expressed concern while supporting the democratic transition. China considers it as merely ‘a cabinet reshuffle’.

This political turmoil in Myanmar will most definitely lead to international sanctions. The consequences may be harsh considering the ongoing economic crisis due to the worldwide corona pandemic. What really happens and how balance is restored, if ever, is yet to be seen.


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