• Devangi Sharma

Myanmar coup ‘d’état

The military of Myanmar overthrew the country’s fragile democratic government in a coup d’état on Feb. 1, arresting civilian leaders, shutting off the internet, and cutting off flights. The coup returns the country to full military rule after a short span of quasi-democracy, violating constitutional agreements between the military and the government.



History of Myanmar Govt

Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948, following which the country remained a democracy till 1962. Then, the military, with General Ne Win at its head, led a coup to establish control for almost 50 years. Facing increasing international isolation, Burma's military government agreed to reform, establishing a semblance of democracy that lasted until 2021.



2020 elections

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide majority in the Myanmar General Elections held in November 2020, securing a total of 396 seats. On the other hand, the main opposition party - the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) managed to win only 33 seats,


The military refused to accept the results of the vote, which was widely seen as a referendum on the popularity of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Observers had questioned the credibility of the election because of the disenfranchisement of virtually all the Rohingya. Mass cancellations outraged ethnic minority parties as nearly two million people were disenfranchised in a nation with some 37 million registered voters.


The military, which had tried in the country’s Supreme Court to argue that the election results were fraudulent, threatened to “take action” and surrounded the houses of Parliament with soldiers. Outraged by the dismissal, USDP shared its support for the move led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.



What went down?

The military, on February 1, detained the leaders of the governing N.L.D. party and Myanmar’s civilian leadership, including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, along with cabinet ministers, the chief ministers of several regions, opposition politicians, writers, and activists.


The coup was announced on the military-owned Myawaddy TV station when a news presenter cited the 2008 constitution, which allows the military to declare a national emergency. The state of emergency, he said, would remain in place for one year.

The military quickly seized control of the country’s infrastructure, suspending most television broadcasts and canceling all domestic and international flights.


Telephone and internet access was suspended in major cities. The stock market and commercial banks were closed, and long lines were seen outside A.T.M.s in some places. In Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, residents ran to markets to stock up on food and other supplies.


Myanmar police filed charges against Suu Kyi and sought her detention until Feb. 15, claiming Suu Kyi’s residence had six illegally imported hand-held radios. This period was then said to be extended till Feb 17.



Public Response

What followed is termed as the biggest show of mass anger in Myanmar since 2007.

Before her detention, The NLD published a statement on behalf of Suu Kyi, urging people to protest the military coup.


The citizens responded with outrage. On Feb 2 Vehicle horns and pans were struck around Yangon after dark in protest against the coup. Facebook removed a page linked to Myanmar’s military-owned TV network in a measure to protect against harm.

Citizens launched a civil disobedience campaign with staff at 70 hospitals across Myanmar stopping work. Protesters waved banners and chanted slogans in Mandalay in the first such street protest. Teachers and some government workers joined the movement.


Blockages were ordered on Twitter and Instagram, where protesters had been sharing information. Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they had “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power. Police fired rubber bullets and water cannons to curb protests. Government removed restrictions allowing the detention of protestors.



International response

Several major world leaders quickly condemned the coup, demanding that Myanmar’s military immediately free the detained government officials and honor the November election results.


The White House commented, “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.” “The US government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1bn in Burmese government funds being held in the United States,” Biden said.

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said the coup developments “represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said in a Twitter post that the “vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”


China, the country’s biggest neighbour has responded cautiously to the coup, having cultivated cordial relations with both Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the military hierarchy that detained her.


“China and Myanmar are friendly neighbours. We hope that all parties will properly handle their differences under the Constitution and legal framework to maintain political and social stability,” said Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.



Rationale

The grievances which have been driving the tension between the military and the government revolve around the poor performance of the USDP in last November's general election.


The timing of this coup is also easily explained. This week the first session of parliament since the election was due to start, which would have enshrined the election result by approving the next government. That will no longer happen.


But the military's longer game plan is hard to fathom, with no clarity on the actions they wish to take in a year. For the moment the military's action appears reckless and puts Myanmar on a perilous path.



Sources: Reuters, New York Times, BBC, The Guardian ~ Devangi Sharma