By George Gourlay
Myanmar’s military has seized control of the country in a coup d’état, detaining the de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, alongside members of her party and other top officials in government.
The coup was staged in the early hours of Monday morning, with tanks rolling down the main street of Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, where the parliament was set to assemble for the first time following an election in November.
Suu Kyi and members of her government were detained, while military leaders gave an address on television, declaring a state of emergency for one year.
The dawn raids of lawmakers’ houses were shared online before phone and internet connections were cut across the country.
People reportedly rushed to the markets and banks, seeking to stock up on supplies and withdraw money before they closed as the military shut down the country, blocking roads and stopping international flights.
It brings an abrupt halt to Southeast Asia’s greatest triumph for democracy, once a beacon of hope after Myanmar’s military dictatorship ended in 2011.
In 2015, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was elected with control of both houses, though the military presence remained, with army officials holding a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of the ministries of home affairs and defence.
The military and elected officials have attempted to share power since, though the relationship between government and military has underlined Myanmar’s struggle for democracy.
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Hailed as an international idol of democracy, Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest during the military dictatorship of Myanmar, then Burma.
Suu Kyi was released in 2010 and led the struggle against military rule. She became state counsellor following election victory in 2015.
Suu Kyi’s struggle earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, though her reputation has been damaged in recent years as she has presided over the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims, occurring at the border of Myanmar.
The crisis, carried out by the army, has led to the displacement of over a million refugees who have fled across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi, in uncharacteristic support of the military, denied reports of ethnic cleansing.
Despite the international backlash, Aung San Suu Kyi has remained immensely popular in Myanmar, winning a second term in office in the November election.
Now remanded in custody until February 15, she faces charges from the Myanmar police including breaching import laws regarding walkie-talkies. Any criminal conviction would prevent her from being a member of parliament under Myanmar law.
Suu Kyi has called on her people to protest the military’s instigation of authoritarian rule.
What caused the coup?
Tensions between the military and Suu Kyi’s government have existed since 2015, however, the conflict reached breaking point following the November election, in which the NLD won a larger victory than that of 2015.
Allegations of fraud originated from the military backed opposition party, the USDP. The claims are as of yet unsubstantiated.
The military launched a campaign to dispute the election results, claiming – without evidence – 10.5 million cases of “potential fraud, such as non-existent voters”.
Last week, a spokesperson for the military threatened that it would “take action” if the disagreement wasn’t settled.
In a television address, the army cited the constitution, in which military control is granted during a state of emergency, as justification of the coup.
How was the coup recieved?
Members of the UN have condemned the coup, calling it a step back for democratic reform, though China prevented the UN Security Council from an official condemnation.
Boris Johnson tweeted:
I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 1, 2021
US President Joe Biden, who campaigned on a promise to restore democracy worldwide, has expressed his support for the people of Burma, stating:
“we will work with our partners throughout the region and around the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition.”
Biden has also proposed new sanctions if democratic control is not restored.
In Myanmar, activists are calling for a response to the coup. They aim to utilise social media, following the example of activists in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Some medical staff reportedly are either protesting or wearing symbols of defiance whilst working.
Though there appears to be little organised protest at the moment, there are signs of support if momentum can be gathered; in Myanmar’s main city civilians banged pots and pans and honked horns in defiance of the military.
A possible hindrance to organised protest could be the military presence on the streets in Myanmar, as well as the curfew currently in place. With the military having declared a year-long state of emergency, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
It remains to be seen if Myanmar’s citizens can start a full-scale protest movement. If they can, they are likely to receive significant support from the more experienced activists of the Milk Tea Alliance, from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.