When the people of Myanmar chose democracy over the Military rule in the general elections, the entire world was not aware of the fact that democracy can be shattered in such a way that the first day of the new session of parliament can be stopped by a Military Coup. But, this is what has been happening in Myanmar since decades.
Even when Myanmar’s people voted for democracy over the military, the generals who had hogged power for decades never gave it up; they only ceded a portion of it to civilian authorities, holding on to a chunk of seats and key ministries. Now, after another landslide victory for the National League for Democracy in November’s election, they need decided even that was an excessive amount of . Following Monday’s coup, the detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged, absurdly, with the possession of illegally imported walkie-talkies, while the president, Win Myint, is accused of breaching coronavirus laws by meeting people on the campaign trail.
A courageous campaign of civil disobedience has already begun. People are sad, furious and frustrated. The military has claimed widespread fraud at last year’s polls, though international observers were satisfied. The true problem was that the result expressed public sentiment all too well, sealing the fate of the 10-year experiment in power sharing. The generals have presumably realised that their aspirations to launder military power into political authority via a proxy party, because the army in neighbouring Thailand has, are doomed to stay failing. They may also have feared that the 80% of seats claimed by the NLD would mean renewed efforts to rein in their enduring power, though previous attempts have been unsuccessful. Another factor may lie within the Tatmadaw; Min Aung Hlaing, commander of the soldiers since 2011 and now the country’s de facto leader, was thanks to retire shortly. Extending his tenure would have required the assent of the woman he has now removed.
The Biden administration was quick to condemn the detentions and the coup. Predictably, China and Russia blocked a British-led attempt to deliver a UN security council statement condemning it, with India and Vietnam also voicing reservations. Aung San Suu Kyi and the other detainees should be released immediately.
The west has been criticised for hobbling her from the first by rushing to reward the generals for their very modest democratic opening; but also for investing too much hope in one highly idealised individual. The Nobel peace laureate’s decision to personally defend Myanmar in the genocide case at the international court of justice destroyed what remaining vestiges of moral authority she retained in the face of the horrific crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. She has been criticised for her intolerance of critics, including within her own party, and the failure to allow a new generation of leaders to rise. The lives of the poor saw little improvement. Violent ethnic conflict has intensified – and 1.5 million ethnic minority citizens were excluded from November’s elections, ostensibly due to safety issues, in addition to the disenfranchised, stateless Rohingya. While the restrictions imposed upon Aung San Suu Kyi have played the greatest part in her failures, her own limitations have been evident too.
Myanmar’s challenges are legion and complex. But this situation is clear. The people made their choice; and the Tatmadaw has stolen it. This is not about one woman, nor even the far wider circle of activists who are likely to suffer if the crackdown intensifies. It is about the millions who are sick of military power, with its corruption, abuses and indifference to their welfare. Inequality is more glaring than ever. The pandemic has deepened the country’s desperate poverty, with around 30% of households reporting no income at all in September and October last year. The resounding victory which they handed the NLD was in large part a rebuff to the military. They deserve better.