Protesters hold flags and a poster calling for the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in Launglone township in Myanmar’s Dawei district (AFP)
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been beset with political instability since it declared independence from Britain in 1948. Between 1958 and 1960 the military formed a temporary caretaker government at the behest of UN. This was to resolve political infighting. The military voluntarily restored a civilian government after holding the 1960 Burmese General Elections. Less than two years later the military seized power in what was known as the 1962 coup; under the leadership of Ne Win which precipitated 26 years of military rule.
"The military remained in power for another 22 years until 2011 following the military’s roadmap to democracy, during which the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar was drafted"
In 1988 nationwide protests broke out in the country. Dubbed the 8888 Uprising, the civil unrest was sparked by economic mismanagement, forcing Ne Win to step down. In September 1988, the military’s top leaders formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which then seized power. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the country’s modern founder Aung San, became a notable pro-democracy activist during this period. In 1990, free elections were allowed by the military, under the assumption that the military enjoyed popular support. Ultimately, the elections resulted in a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. However, the military refused to cede power and placed her under house arrest.
The military remained in power for another 22 years until 2011 following the military’s roadmap to democracy, during which the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar was drafted. Between 2011 and 2015, a tentative democratic transition began, and elections held in 2015 resulted in a victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy(NLD). However, the military retained substantial power, including the right to appoint 1⁄4 of all parliament members.
The 2021 coup occurred in the aftermath of the General Elections, held on November 8 2020 in which the NLD won 396 out of 476 seats in parliament. This was a larger margin of victory than in the 2015 election. The military’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, won only 33 seats.
The coup took place as a new session of parliament was set to open.
"The International Commission of Jurists found that, by staging a coup, the military had violated Myanmar’s constitution, since the alleged election irregularities did not justify the declaration of a state of emergency in comport with the Constitution"
Suu Kyi has been held at an unknown location since the coup. She is facing various charges, including possessing illegal walkie-talkies, violating COVID-19 restrictions during last year’s election campaign and publishing information that may ‘cause fear or alarm’. NLD MPs who managed to escape arrest formed a new group in hiding. Their leader has urged protesters to defend themselves against the crackdown. The army disputed the results, claiming that the vote was fraudulent. The coup attempt had been rumoured for several days, prompting statements of concern from Western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States and Australia.
The military’s motives for the coup remain unclear. Ostensibly, the military has posited that alleged voter fraud threatened national sovereignty. A few days before the coup, the civilian-appointed Union Election Commission had categorically rejected the military’s claims of voter fraud, citing the lack of evidence to support the military’s claims of 8.6 million irregularities in voter lists across Myanmar’s 314 townships.
"Union Election Commission had categorically rejected the military’s claims of voter fraud"
The coup may have been driven by the military’s goal to preserve its central role in Burmese politics. The Defence Services Act imposes a mandatory retirement age of 65 for the Armed Forces’ Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the incumbent. He would have been forced to retire on his 65th birthday in July 2021. Further, the Constitution empowers solely the President, in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council, with the authority to appoint Min Aung Hlaing’s successor, which could have provided an opportunity for the civilian arm of the government to appoint a more reform-minded military officer as Commander-in-Chief. Hlaing’s lack of power would have exposed him to potential prosecution and accountability for alleged war crimes during the Rohingya conflict in various international courts. Min Aung Hlaing had also hinted a potential entry into politics as a civilian, after his retirement.
The activist group Justice for Myanmar has also noted the significant financial and business interests of Min Aung Hlaing and his family, as a potential motivating factor for the coup . Min Aung Hlaing oversees two military conglomerates, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) while his daughter, son, and daughter-in-law have substantial business holdings in the country.
"However, Article 417 of the Constitution authorises only a sitting president to declare a state of emergency, following consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC)"
A few days before the coup, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had released $350 million of cash to the Central Bank of Myanmar, as part of an emergency aid package, to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The funds came with no conditions, and without any precedent for refunds. In response to potential concerns regarding proper use of the funds by the military regime, an IMF spokesperson stated “It would be in the interests of the government, and certainly the people of Myanmar that those funds are indeed used accordingly.” The IMF did not directly address any concerns regarding the independence of the Central Bank, given the military’s appointment of Than Nyein, an ally, as governor.
A lobbyist for the military junta reported that the junta would like to improve relations with the United States and distance Myanmar from China, believing Myanmar had grown too close to China under Aung San Suu Kyi.
The legality of the coup has been questioned by legal scholars, including Melissa Crouch. The International Commission of Jurists found that, by staging a coup, the military had violated Myanmar’s constitution, since the alleged election irregularities did not justify the declaration of a state of emergency in comport with the Constitution. Further, the jurists found that the military’s actions had violated the fundamental rule of law principle. The NLD has also rejected the legal basis for the military takeover.
During its announcement of the coup, the military invoked Articles 417 and 418 of the 2008 Constitution as the legal basis for the military takeover. However, Article 417 of the Constitution authorises only a sitting president to declare a state of emergency, following consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). The incumbent civilian president Win Myint had not voluntarily ceded his role; instead, the state of emergency was unconstitutionally declared by vice president Myint Swe.
"Aside from the Buddhist clergy, local clergy and monastics of the Catholic Church have similarly voiced their opposition to the military takeover"
The declaration of a state of emergency then transfers legislative, executive, and judicial authority to the Commander-in-Chief per Article 418. Half of the NDSC’s members at the time of the coup were civilians, including the president, the civilian-elected second vice-president, and the speakers of the upper and lower houses, all of whom had been arrested by the military. The military claims that the NDSC was convened, chaired by Min Aung Hlaing, to invoke Articles 417 and 418. However, this session was held in the absence of the civilian members of the NDSC, and it is unclear whether the military had the constitutional authority to reconstitute a session of the NDSC, or to unilaterally declare a state of emergency through a Vice President, since the Constitution grants the president, who at the time had not voluntarily vacated his role, the sole authority to declare a state of emergency.
On March 23, 2021, during a news conference in Naypyitaw, the Tatmadaw defended the reimposition of the junta and claimed that ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi was corrupt, tantamount to graft. No supporting evidence for these allegations was offered outside of the taped testimony of a former colleague of Kyi, Phyo Min Thein, who has been detained by the military since the coup began.
Civil resistance efforts have emerged within the country, in opposition to the coup, in numerous forms, including acts of civil disobedience, labour strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, a red ribbon campaign, public protests, and formal recognition of the election results by elected representatives. The three-finger salute has been widely adopted as a protest symbol, while netizens joined the Milk Tea Alliance, an online democratic solidarity movement in Asia. “Kabar Makyay Bu” a song that was first popularised as the anthem of the 8888 Uprising, has been revitalised by the civil disobedience movement as a protest song.
Since the onset of the coup, residents in urban centres such as Yangon staged cacerolazos, striking pots and pans in unison every evening as a symbolic act to drive away evil, as a method of expressing their opposition to the coup.
"On March 23, 2021, during a news conference in Naypyitaw, the Tatmadaw defended the reimposition of the junta and claimed that ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi was corrupt"
On 2 February, healthcare workers and civil servants across the country launched a national civil disobedience campaign, in opposition to the coup, with workers from dozens of state-run hospitals and institutions initiating a labour strike. A Facebook campaign group dubbed the “Civil Disobedience Movement” has attracted 150,000 followers, within 24 hours of its launch on 2 February. As of 3 February, healthcare workers in over 110 government hospitals and healthcare agencies have participated in the movement. The labour strikes have spread to other parts of the civil service, including union-level ministries and universities, as well as to private firms, such as factories and copper mines, students, and youth groups.
On 3 February, healthcare workers launched the red ribbon campaign The red ribbon has been adopted by civil servants and workers across Myanmar as a symbol of opposition to the military regime.
On 3 February, a domestic boycott movement called the “Stop Buying Junta Business” campaign also emerged, calling for the boycott of products and services linked to the Myanmar military. Among the targeted goods and services in the Burmese military’s significant business portfolio include Mytel, a national telecoms carrier, Myanmar, Mandalay, and Dagon Beer, several coffee and tea brands, 7th Sense Creation, which was co-founded by Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter, and bus lines.
"A Facebook campaign group dubbed the “Civil Disobedience Movement” has attracted 150,000 followers, within 24 hours of its launch on 2 February"
Public protests have also emerged in the wake of the coup. On 2 February, some Yangonites staged a brief 15-minute protest rally at 8 pm, calling for the overthrow of the dictatorship and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. On 4 February 30 citizens protested against the coup, in front of the University of Medicine in Mandalay, an act that led to four arrests.. On 6 February, 20,000 protestors took part in a street protest in Yangon against the coup, calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released. Workers from 14 trade unions participated in the protests. Protests spread to Mandalay and to the Pyinmana township of Naypyidaw on the afternoon of 6 February. The Mandalay marches started at 1 pm. Protestors continued on motorbikes at 4:00 pm in reaction to police restrictions. Police were in control by 6 pm. On 9 February 2021, the military used violence to crackdown on peaceful protests, injuring six protestors, including a 20-year old woman who was shot in the head. About 100 demonstrators were arrested in Mandalay. On 10 February 2021, most of the arrested demonstrators from Mandalay were released.
Youth groups protested on the roads by wearing cosplay costumes, skirts, wedding dresses, and other unusual clothing for daily life while holding signboards and vinyl banners that break with the country’s more traditional protest messages for the purpose of grabbing attention from both domestic and international press media.
On 12 February, the Union Day in Myanmar, junta’s crackdown in Mawlamyine became more intense as shots were fired. Gunfire was heard in Myitkyina, Kachin State, when security forces clashed with protesters on 14 February. Five journalists were arrested afterwards. Troops joined police in forcefully dispersing marchers using rubber bullets and slingshots in the city of Mandalay.
"Thailand’s largest industrial estate developer, Amata, halted a $1 billion industrial zone development project in Yangon in response to the coup"
Activities on social media
Facebook had been used to organise the civil disobedience campaign’s labour strikes and the emerging boycott movement. On 4 February, telecom operators and internet providers across Myanmar were ordered to block Facebook until 7 February, to ensure the “country’s stability.” MPT, a state-owned carrier, also blocked Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services, while Telenor Myanmar blocked only Facebook. Following the Facebook ban, Burmese users had begun flocking to Twitter, popularising hashtags like #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, and #SaveMyanmar, On 5 February, the government extended the social media access ban to include Instagram and Twitter.. On the morning of 6 February, the military authorities initiated an internet outage nationwide. Internet access was restricted by the government again since 14 February 2021 for 20 days, from 1:00 am to 9:00 am. People use social media Facebook and Twitter to reach their voices to international communities and also to share photo and video evidences of brutality of military forces on the protestors.
Various Buddhist monasteries and educational institutions have denounced the coup; among them are the Masoyein and Mahāgandhārāma monasteries. Sitagu International Buddhist Academy also released a statement imploring against actions that run counter to the Dhamma. Aside from the Buddhist clergy, local clergy and monastics of the Catholic Church have similarly voiced their opposition to the military takeover.
As the military response to the ensuing protests started taking a violent turn, the Shwekyin Nikāya, Burma’s second largest monastic order, urged Min Aung Hlaing to immediately cease the assaults on unarmed civilians and to refrain from engaging in theft and property destruction. Its leading monks, including Ñāṇissara Bhikkhu, who is known for his amicable relationship with the military, reminded the general to be a good Buddhist, which entailed keeping to the Five Precepts required for at least a human rebirth.
Thailand’s largest industrial estate developer, Amata, halted a $1 billion industrial zone development project in Yangon in response to the coup, after commencing construction in December 2020. Suzuki Motor, Myanmar’s largest automaker, and several manufacturers halted domestic operations in the wake of the coup. The Yangon Stock Exchange has also suspended trading since 1 February, Myanmar’s real estate market crashed as a result of the coup, with sales and purchase transactions dropping by almost 100%. On 4 February, French oil multinational Total SE announced it was reviewing the impact of the coup on its domestic operations and projects.
On 5 February, Kirin Company ended its joint venture with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). The joint venture, Myanmar Brewery, produces several brands of beer, including Myanmar Beer, and has an 80% market share in the country. Kirin’s stake had been valued at US$1.7 billion.
On 8 February, Lim Kaling, co-founder of Razer announced he was divesting his stake in a joint venture with a Singaporean tobacco company that owns a 49% stake in Virginia Tobacco, whose majority stake is owned by MEHL. Virginia Tobacco, Myanmar’s largest cigarette maker, owns the Red Ruby and Premium Gold brands. That evening, Min Aung Hlaing made a televised address, aiming to ease concerns about Myanmar’s foreign investment climate.
As the protests have started, there has been reported defections from the Myanmar Police Force. On 5 March 2021, 11 officers have crossed the Indian-Myanma land border to Mizoram state with their families due to refusing orders to engage protestors by using lethal force . Myanmar officials have reached out to India to repatriate the defecting police officers located in Mizoram, with the reply that the Indian government will make a final decision. The Assam Rifles were given orders to tighten security along the Indian-Myanma border From 10 March, the border is closed after 48 Myanma nationals have crossed it.
International Governmental responses
Many countries, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia,Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Singapore expressed concern in response to the coup, many of which encouraged dialogue between the government and the military in order to resolve the issue. Australia, Canada, France, Germany,Nepal, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain,Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States on their part condemned the coup and called for the release of detained officials; the White House also threatened to impose sanctions on coup perpetrators. Subsequently, President Biden approved an Executive Order for new sanctions on the coup perpetrators which would enable his administration to affect the perpetrator’s business interests and close family members.” President Biden also stated that he would freeze $1 billion US assets belonged to the Myanmar’s government while maintaining support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly.”
In response of the coup, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country had suspended its diplomatic ties with Myanmar a week after the coup; the New Zealand government also banned some high ranking elites in military government. Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam explicitly refused to support a side, characterising the coup as an internal matter. On 9 February 2021, New Zealand suspended all high-level contact with Myanmar and imposed a travel ban on its military leaders because of the coup. On 25 February 2021, Tokyo considered halting projects in Myanmar in response to the coup. On 24 February, the new Myanmar foreign minister visited Thailand, marking the first high official visit since the coup. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Indonesian President Joko Widodo also called a special meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers to discuss the issue during Muhyiddin’s visit to Jakarta. In March, the Thai military was accused of supplying aid to the Myanmar military, which it denied.
Intergovernmental organisations, including the United Nations, ASEAN, and the European Union expressed concern and called for dialogue from both sides. In addition to concern, the European Union also condemned the coup and urged the release of detainees.
In response to the coup, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting, where a British-drafted resolution urging the “restoration of democracy” in Myanmar, condemning the Myanmar military’s action, and calling for the release of detainees was proposed. The statement was not issued because of failure to garner support from all 15 council members; the diplomats of China and Russia reportedly have to relay the draft to their respective governments for review. China and Russia, as permanent members of the council and therefore having the power of veto, refused to back the statement. India and Vietnam, two non-permanent members, also “voiced reservations” about the resolution.
On 26 February 2021, the South Korean National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the coup. On 5 March 2021, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato urged the SAC-led government to stop using lethal force to disperse protests. Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan also called the military to stop using lethal force.
South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on 12 March 2021 that South Korea will suspend defence exchanges with Myanmar and ban arms exports, and would limit exports of other strategic items, reconsider development aid and grant humanitarian exemptions for Myanmar nationals to allow them to stay in South Korea until the situation improves.
On 27 March 2021, eight countries sent representatives to attend the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade.
Protests outside Myanmar
A group of about 200 Burmese expatriates and some Thai pro-democracy activists including Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul protested the coup at the Burmese embassy on Sathon Nuea Road in Bangkok, Thailand. Some protesters reportedly showed the three-finger salute, the symbol used in the protests calling for democracy in Thailand. The protest ended with a police crackdown; two protestors were injured and hospitalised, and two others were arrested. Burmese citizens in Tokyo, Japan gathered in front of the United Nations University, also to protest against the coup. On 3 February, more than 150 Burmese Americans protested in front of the Embassy of Myanmar in Washington, D.C.
The Singapore Police Force issued warnings on 5 February 2021 against foreigners planning to participate in anti-coup protests in Singapore. On 14 February 2021, SPF officers arrested three foreigners for protesting at the outskirts of the Myanmar embassy without permits to participate in a public assembly. In March 2021, the Public Security Police Force of Macau has warned Myanmar residents that they are not allowed to conduct anti-coup protests as Article 27 of the Macau Basic Law only allows Macanese residents the right to do so.
How many killed so far
As of 1 April, at least 500 people have been killed in subsequent protests against the coup, and at least 1,700 have been arbitrarily detained. Three prominent NLD members also died while in police custody in March 2021.
Not a fair form of Govt.
There are arguably few advantages and more disadvantages of military dictatorship governments, with advantages including the possible deposition of a prior, ineffective government and disadvantages including a totalitarian and oppressive government whose authority derives from military power and intimidation rather than democratic choice of the people. Because a military dictatorship typically evolves from a coup d’etat in which a nation’s military takes over the government and remains in power due to superior force, it is generally not considered to be a fair and equitable form of government.
Advantages for those living under a military dictatorship are typically few and far between, but those who are in power tend to enjoy advantages such as unquestioned authority, nearly unlimited power, and access to a wider range of resources than are typically offered to citizens within the same nation. Additionally, military dictatorships tend to be ruled by a single individual who has no real accountability. Military dictators tend to lead their countries for a long time, very rarely stepping down voluntarily, meaning that violent struggle is necessary to implement a different style of government.
The current North Korean government is an example of a military dictatorship; the rulers of this nation have all been of the same family and have carried out oppression and harsh imprisonment against their own people suggesting that Military Dictatorships Governments are not viable and accepted in this 21st century anywhere in the world.
(The writer is an international researcher and international writer and the former Security Forces Commander Eastern Province and Wanni Region)
A protester holds a homemade pipe air gun during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar (REUTERS)