• Matthew Norton

The Myanmar Coup

Editor's Note - The views expressed in this article may not reflect NIST's thoughts as a whole; they are solely based on the author's opinions

The Military Coup in Myanmar, which officially began on the 1st of February, 2021, was the day where tensions between the government and the military boiled over after years of anger between the two warring factions of Myanmar Politics. This article will provide context to this coup and break down what might happen in response to it.

2020 Myanmar Elections - Red is the wins for the NLD party

Many in Myanmar and around the world have praised Aun San Syu Kui in the past. She is incredibly popular within Myanmar, she has received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on instating democracy in her country. Her father was a Burmese nationalist leader, who worked to ensure Myanmar’s independence from Britain. She also secured diplomatic ties to the United States, with President Barack Obama even coming to visit the country. She was under house arrest for many years, due to the military rule of the country. In fact, she was the first ever Nobel Peace Prize winner to win the award while under house arrest, showing her commitment to democracy.

However, many other international observers, particularly recently, have criticized Myanmar’s leader for overseeing the Rohinga Crisis, now considered genocide and ethnic cleansing. The incident caused over one million Rohingya Muslims to flee the country into neighboring Bangladesh. There have been allegations of disgusting behaviour by the military such as killings, rape, destruction of crime evidence, and censorship of journalists covering the situation. While the military was the group carrying out the genocide, Aun San Syu Kii did nothing to stop it. Some allege that she supported what the military was doing, but this cannot be verified for sure. The ethnic cleansing is still believed to be continuing to this day.

While Suu Kui and the military were in agreement over the Rohinga Muslim population and the genocide, they were not over Suu Kui’s push for democracy and democratic reforms in the country. After decades in power, the military was not happy when after their democratic reforms, Suu Kui’s party won landslide elections to the federal government. The military-backed party, the USDP, won a disappointing amount of seats in their parliamentary system. In response, after declaring the votes fraudulent, they put Suu Kui and her top 24 lieutenants under house arrest on trumped-up charges of importing illegal walkie-talkies.

Since the 1st of February, the people of Myanmar have begun to fight back against the coup. There was a mass strike of public sector workers, public protests, the red ribbon movement, and even a pot-banging movement. All of these actions are designed to put pressure on the military for the immediate and unconditional release of Aun San Suu Kui. An internet blackout was put into place to try and disrupt communications in the country, along with other civil disobedience.

Sadly, the crackdown from the police in response has turned violent. As of May 24th, a total of more than 700 people have been killed by the military police state according to a local monitoring group. Unfortunately, this includes a 6-year-old. This has come in response to mostly peaceful pushback against the military dictatorship, along with questions over Suu Kui’s power in the country currently.

In terms of the international reactions, countries can be categorized into three categories as shown in the map below:

dark green is strong condemnation of the coup,

light green is deeply concerned,

yellow is describing the coup as an internal matter and not getting involved.

Grey have not commented on the issue

Blue is Myanmar itself

The United States has called for fresh sanctions on Myanmar following the coup. Protests around the world have been taking place, including in Singapore, Thailand, and Japan, close to the Myanmar embassies in these countries. Many of the countries who are describing the coup as an internal matter have been suspected to be supplying Myanmar with supplies, with China the most likely suspect who people are pointing the figure at.

However, there is a question as to how much other nations can do about the coup. Sanctions and economic isolation can only go so far, and even while these are targeted, sanctions do often hurt the people in the country. The only other feasible solution to try and unseat the coup would be to go to war, but this would result in an even higher death count and currently is thankfully not on the table as a serious option by any major country.

The protests have been likened to similar protests in Hong Kong, Poland, the United States, Belarus, Thailand, Lebanon, Haiti, Bolivia, Nigeria, Russia, India, and so many other countries around the world this year. Despite Covid 19, people around the world are fighting back against a variety of increasingly authoritarian governments in many countries.

It is concerning that there is a continued movement towards authoritarianism and this type of rule. Just in the first 4 months in 2021, there have been three other coup attempts, including Haiti, Armenia, and Nigeria. In Hong Kong, the Chinese government has imposed “patriots” to run Hong Kong, rather than leaving it to the people. According to previous agreements, Hong Kong would now be run almost exclusively by the people, but they are now only going backwards.

The most likely future for Myanmar is more military rule, with future crackdowns seemingly inevitable. While avoiding military conflict in the country, international organisations should be strongly condemning the coup and putting pressure on the military leaders to give back control to Suu Kui and the democracy movement in Myanmar.

In terms of what this coup means around the world, it is clear that the coup is a major step backward for democracy in Myanmar, and the return of military rule. It will be interesting to see what happens in the weeks, months, and years to come.

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