Myanmar was thrown into turmoil on the morning of 1 February 2021, when the Tatmadaw Military Party planned and executed a coup led by Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, Min Aung Hlaing, who deposed and detained the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, Cabinet Ministers, Opposition Politicians, and Members of Parliament.
It has been five years since Myanmar’s military was celebrated for willingly handing over power to civilians in honour of the 2015 general election which ushered into office the National League for Democracy.
During the November 2020 general election, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, again, won by a landslide. General Min Aung Hlaing who leads the army is alleged to have played a vital role in the murderous ethnic cleansing and displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims between October 2016 – January 2017. Rather than concede defeat, the General maintained strategic control in the country. This move, as well as the detention of government officials, activists, and other veteran politicians, appears to prove the deception in the Military’s pledge to democracy.
The army has claimed that the coup was a result of the failure of the country’s election commission to address ‘huge irregularities’ in the 2020 November general elections; an election considered fair by the people of Myanmar. However, a closer look at circumstances on ground says otherwise.
General Min Aung Hlaing is scheduled to step down as Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw by his 65th birthday in July 2021. It is evident that this coup was orchestrated to deter charges and possible prosecution against him by the International Court for his horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who had previously spent more than 15 years under house arrest between 1989-2010 for her role in criticising military rule in the 90s, and who along with President Win Myint and other ministers and members of parliament, have been held in detention since February 1, was instrumental in Myanmar’s transition from military junta to partial democracy after 2010.
Yet the popularity of her person and party among the people of Myanmar has always been a source of contention for the military; after her party’s second landslide victory in the 2020 general elections, she is levied with bogus accusations such as violating import restriction after walkie-talkies and other foreign equipment were found in her villa, as well as contravening a natural disaster management law by interacting with a crowd despite the coronavirus pandemic. These accusations do not hold water as they are clearly the military’s attempt to find cause for imprisoning the political hero.
The Military has shown in multiple situations its disloyalty to democracy. It became even more glaring when on 16th February, a secret closed-door trial for Aung San Suu Kyi, for her alleged crimes, which if found guilty, would mean a 6-year jail term sentence for her, was held without the knowledge of her attorney; the trial lasted less than an hour. This does not only infringe on her legal and human rights, it further exposes the fundamental purpose of the coup; it was never to stabilise the nation as claimed by the military, it was only to serve the greed and interest of dictatorship.
The citizens of Myanmar know too well what a military dictatorship is, they have witnessed it for more than five decades and it was only a matter of time before citizens took to the streets on the 2nd February, in protest of the coup and detention of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. By 6 February, 20,000 protesters took to the street of Yangon calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mass protests, civil disobedience, labour strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, a red ribbon campaign, and the adoption of the three-finger salute as a symbol of the resistance broke out in all regions of the country. The objectives, to call for the resignation of the Chairman of the State Administration Council and leader of the military coup, Min Aung Hlaing, the release and reinstatement of Win Myint, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other detained individuals, as well as the recognition of the legality of the 2020 general elections results which will ensure the restoration of civilian rule.
The coup, as expected, attracted international condemnation. The United Kingdom, European Union, and Australia have openly criticised the military takeover and those involved. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres described it as a “serious blow to democratic reforms.” The United States President, Joe Biden, has issued an executive order to impose sanctions that targeted the coup plotters. The US also blocked access by the military to $1bn of Myanmar government funds held in the US.
To stifle, intimidate, and silence the unrelenting protesters, the military employed undemocratic countermeasures which included multiple internets, social media, and media blackouts. Also, pursuing the arrest and criminal sentencing of up to 20-years imprisonment against protesters, proposals to competing political parties to join the newly formed State Administration Council, deployment of pro-military protesters, and the use of force to suppress protests.
Three deaths have been verified throughout the protests; a woman shot during the rally in Naypyidaw on 6th February, and two men shot during the protest in the city of Mandalay on 20th February. More than 20 other injuries have also been recorded and close to 500 arrests have been made all around the country.
Admirably, the protesters remain undeterred despite indications from the police that even more brute force will be applied to disperse the protests. They will not stop until their leaders are free and the objectives of the protest are realised.
By Jesse Cheto