Myanmar: a South-East Asian country currently facing massive civil unrest following a military takeover in early February. The army declared a state of national emergency through the military-owned Myawaddy TV station, citing the 2008 Constitution. Demonstrators across the nation have since been pouring into the streets to protest the coup d’etat that challenged the nation’s quasi-democracy that has prevailed since 2011.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy party was detained after the army effectuated the coup through the news broadcast. Other high ranking civilian officials, including President U Win Myint, cabinet ministers and chief ministers, opposition politicians, writers and activists were captured in quick succession after Suu Kyi. The nation’s infrastructure – such as television broadcasts, air travel, telephone and internet – were quickly brought under military command, too.
A Brief Summary of the Protests
Weeks of peaceful protests took a violent turn on February 20 when two unarmed protesters, including a 16-year-old boy, were killed by security forces. Soon after, millions of people took to the streets on Feb 22 for a general strike. People from all facets of society joined in this movement — doctors, students, bank workers, monks, civil servants, day laborers and many others aided the civil disobedience effort that has interrupted systems and made it difficult for the military to maintain order.
In the weeks since, the protests have gotten much bloodier. Recent footage from the protesters demonstrates the brutality of it all: the military shooting the public at point blank range, imprisoning journalists, the savage abuse of demonstrators and so on.
During the week of March 1 alone, around 50 protesters were killed and dozens more were injured. Unfortunately, the military’s past attacks set dangerous precedents for the movement to grow much more violent.
It is important to note that the young people spearheading the protests are determined to sustain the movement notwithstanding the risks. As per BBC reports, A teenage girl, wearing a shirt that read “Everything will be OK”, died after being shot in the head. It is a testament to their indomitable spirit that the nation’s youth continue their defiance despite the rising death toll. Much like recent protests in Thailand, the three-fingered salute has also come to signify rebellion against the military takeover in Myanmar.
How did it all Begin?
Following Myanmar’s elections on Nov 8, 2020, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power after winning 83% of the available seats. The military contested the results in the Supreme Court as ‘fraudulent’. As a Parliament session was about to convene in order to endorse the election results and approve of the next government, the military stormed the houses of Parliament with soldiers, thus initiating the coup and reversing years of slow progress towards democracy.
Who is Running the Country now?
The military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing seized control of the country in the aftermath of the coup. He attempted to justify the takeover to the public by stating that the military was on the people’s side and they would form a ‘true and disciplined democracy’.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Legacy
The leader of the NLD Party rose to fame in the 1990s for her efforts to restore democracy. After spending 15 years in house arrest, she emerged victorious in 2016 after the country’s first fully democratic vote in decades.
Her ascent has been viewed as a pivotal moment in Myanmar’s transition to democracy from military dictatorship. Her democratic pursuits earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. However, the international icon fell from global grace after she infamously cooperated with the military succeeding their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims – an ethnic cleansing effort which killed thousands of Rohingya and forced hundreds of thousands of others to flee to Bangladesh in 2017.
Many believed Suu Kyi’s move to be a pragmatic play on preserving relationships between her party and the army and encouraging the evolution to complete democracy.
Her recent detention and subsequent trial in court proves that her defense of the military before the International Court of Justice in 2019 were in vain. The current charges against Suu Kyi could land her in prison for 6 years. Suu Kyi’s alleged crimes include violation of import restrictions and breaching COVID-19 restrictions during the previous election campaign.
U.S.A and U.K have threatened Myanmar with sanctions while the UN has stated that the ‘coup represents a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar’. However, the UN special envoy in Myanmar noted that the generals who are currently sitting atop the military do not fear renewed sanctions. Moreover, they indicated being ‘very surprised’ that their efforts to bring the nation under military control is not working conveniently for them. As for the country’s Asian neighbours, China has responded with caution by virtue of their cordiality with both Suu Kyi and the military.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has pushed for a stop to violence. But the members of the regional group have long-standing traditions of acting by consensus and being less-than-enthusiastic about inference, even in dire circumstances.
Taking all of the above into consideration, it is imperative that world leaders join forces in an organized effort to put an end to the military violence in Myanmar. The army-led coup is capitalizing on the conjecture that other nations will not go beyond warnings, economic restrictions and travel bans. Therefore, we need to change the narrative by petitioning local and federal governments to hold the Myanmar military accountable.