Myanmar is once again in the international media headlines as the southeast Asian nation lately has lost another opportunity to sustain its credibility as a multi-party democracy. Presently under the military rule at least for one year, Myanmar witnessed a coup on early hours of February 1, 2021 when the military generals captured power and detained many of newly elected lawmakers hours before Parliament convenes its first session.
Now the country has experienced an uproarious situation as over a hundred thousand Burmese citizens hit the streets across Myanmar demanding the end of military rule and release of all detained political leaders including pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Political observers opine that the spontaneous protest demonstrations across Myanmar against the military dictatorship refresh the memory of 2007 Saffron Revolution that paved the way for democratic reforms in the Buddhist majority country.
The disturbing news broke from Naypyidaw, Myanmar's new capital, as the Tatmadaw (popular name of the military) seized the power declaring an emergency before Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of Myanmar Parliament was readied to start its session. The upper house (Amyotha Hluttaw) was scheduled to convene next morning (February 2) in Naypyidaw capital complex. The military-run Myawaddy television channel announced that the country was put under emergency for one year using necessary provisions of the military framed 2008 Constitution and formed an interim government with U Myint Swe, a retired army general, as its President. The acting President was quick to transfer all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military commander-in-chief, senior general Min Aung Hlaing.
By then President U Win Myint along with National League for Democracy (NLD) chief Suu Kyi, who served the country as State Counsellor, and many State government chiefs namely U Phyo Min Thein, Zaw Myint Maung, Aung Moe Nyo, Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint, U Nyi Pu were detained at their respective residences. At the same time a large number of pro-democracy activists and human rights workers were also arrested from different parts of the country.
The fixed telephone lines, mobile services, internet connections in different parts of the country were temporarily restricted. The government-run radio and television channel (MRTV) announced that it was not running the show since the morning hours. Military personnel with armoured vehicles were deployed in several important locations including Naypyidaw, former capital Yangon (earlier Rangoon), ancient capital Mandalay etc.
The conflict started with the outcome of multi-party general elections, held on November 8, 2020, where the NLD nominated candidates achieved huge success but the military sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) suffered losses. Even after enjoying an advantage with the 2008 Constitution, where 25 per cent seats are reserved in both the houses of Parliament, the USDP found the outcome (wining only 33 out of 476 available constituencies) as humiliating.
On the other hand, the NLD led by 1991 Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, won in 396 seats in both houses of Parliament, which is far ahead of 322, the magic number to form the government in Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi established a landslide win in the last general elections (2015) too, which she contested after her release from 15 years long house arrest by the military junta (then led by senior general Than Shwe).
The military authority (through the USDP) continued its accusation of widespread election frauds, though without any evidence, by the NLD led government authorities. The country's election commission ruled out any irregularity in the electoral exercise. Domestic election observers also stated that the polls were credible. Later the USDP even approached the apex court of Myanmar even though the institution has very limited influence over its 60 million population. Myanmar's top military general Hlaing, 64, who nurtures his ambition to become the President, recently revealed that the constitutional guidelines could be modified in the urgent need of law-enforcements and safeguarding the country's territorial integrity. Another military officer Zaw Min Tun, who functions as Tatmadaw's spokesperson, asserted that the military would impose laws in accordance with the situation.
Myanmar had earlier experiences of military coups in 1962 and 1988 since its independence (in 1948 from the British). But this time international reactions remain more visible as the powerful nations criticised the military junta for its action that may destabilisae the process of democratic reforms. They are unanimous that the Burmese citizens must get the opportunity to elect their representatives in Parliament.
Besides, the United Nations, United States of America, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Australia, Singapore expressed concern at the incident. India also expressed concern over the military actions in its bordering nation.
Even though Suu Kyi has lost her iconic image in the international arena after the exodus of nearly 700,000-plus Rohingya people, which she allegedly did not resist according to her capacity, she continues to be a dominating politician in the land of Golden Pagodas. Barred from becoming the President (as she married a foreigner), Suu Kyi has to maintain fights both in domestic and international political space as she faced individual condemnations because of the military crackdown in various parts including the Rakhine region. Following her open call to the Burmese people irrespective of their ethnicity or professions to resist the military misadventure (following civil disobedience, non-violence and non-cooperation), a group of Burma-centric organisations raised voices against the military regime. New York based Human Rights Watch observed that Myanmar military personnel have a long history of using excessive forces to crack down on peaceful public and hence expressed worries over probable repressive measures against the protesting mass, especially the democratic activists, military critics, journalists etc. It also accused Hlaing for his active role in cleansing over hundred thousands Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh. Facing the heat, the military chief Hlaing publicly announced that the authority would arrange free and fair multi-party general elections soon after the emergency period is completed. The general with full army attires, appearing lately in the television channel, reassured that he was planning to ease the pandemic restrictions across Myanmar. More importantly, he asserted that Rohingya refugees, who are now taking shelter in south Bangladesh would continue to be repatriated to Rakhine State as already designed.
The author is a northeast India based journalist who keeps track on Myanmar politics. [email protected]