The Myanmar crisis

March 1, 2021
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Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the South East Asian country of 50 million people, has been plunged into a needless political crisis since February 1 when the Tatmadaw, the country’s military, seized power on the brink of a new parliamentary session that would have sealed the results of the November 8 2020 general election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) comprehensively trounced the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).  Although the military is no stranger to the political process in Myanmar, having ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly five decades before handing over power to civilians in 2011, few observers of the Buddhist-majority country expected the army to intervene in such a brazen manner, particularly given that, due to an oddity in the country’s constitution, the military enjoys an automatic allocation of a quarter of parliamentary seats, in addition to control of three key ministries: Home Affairs, Defence, and Border Affairs respectively.

That it had no justifiable reason to interrupt the democratic process has been exposed by the Trumpian thinness of its claim that “The UEC [election commission] failed to solve huge voter list irregularities in the multi-party general election…” It seems more likely that the military was embarrassed by the outcome of the election (adjudged to be free and fair by domestic and international monitors) which confirmed the popularity of Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLDP, and simultaneously the unpopularity of the Tatmadaw-backed USDP. In any event, the military led by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has gone ahead to declare a one-year state of emergency, while holding hostage President Win Myint and Ms. Suu Kyi, having charged the latter, laughably, “with possessing illegal walkie-talkies and violating the country’s Natural Disaster Law.”

Judging by the overwhelmingly peaceful mass protests which have greeted the announcement of the coup, there is no doubt that Myanmarese, having tasted of military rule once, do not want a return to the status quo ante. The following statement by a 64-year-old citizen captures this sentiment: “I don’t want the coup. I have seen many transitions in this country and I was looking forward to a better future.” We wish to express our solidarity with the people of Myanmar and join them in condemning this unwelcome intrusion into their country’s democratic process.

We are also encouraged by the reaction of the international community. Following the announcement of the coup, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, denounced it as “a serious blow to democratic reforms,” while United States President Joe Biden warned that “force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.” The US is also considering re-imposing economic sanctions on Myanmar if the coup is not reversed.

We regret that, for sheer opportunism, the military in Myanmar has disrupted the country’s democratic process, thrown the economy into a tailspin, and exacerbated tensions within civil society. Already, four people—three civilians and a policeman—have been killed as protesters against the coup have faced off against paid supporters of the military. We call for the immediate release of Ms. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and the return of the military to the barracks.

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