Early on February 1, 2021, Myanmar (formerly Burma) was officially taken over by a military coup on what was supposed to be the first day in session for the nation’s new parliament. The military stated that they will reclaim control of the country for one year, after relenting power in 2011. Internet capabilities and the press were suppressed across the country and tanks rolled into Naypyidaw in the days leading up to the official takeover.
The military, Tatmadaw, detained numerous democratic leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who was the first democratically elected leader of the nation in the historic 2015 election. Suu Kyi became a Nobel Laureate for her peaceful handling of the military in the 1990s, though Amnesty stripped her of her Peace Prize for her leading role in the Rohingya genocide. Her sentence has been prolonged, as the military charged her with possession of illegal radio devices. President Win Myint is the only person authorized by the constitution to enact a state of emergency and he has been detained with the other party leaders. Tatmadaw General Min Aung Hlaing now has control.
The nation’s elections on November 8, 2020 were scrutinized by the Tatmadow, as they believed there was fraud in favor of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) loss further aggravated them, as their calls to postpone the election because of the pandemic had been ignored. The NLD’s landslide victory of 396 out of 476 seats was even more dramatic than the previous election. The USPD disliked the pool of voters, claiming there were irregularities in the citizens who were allowed to cast ballots. There was no substantial evidence to support their anger. The nation still placed their support behind the NLD, even in the face of genocide investigations, and as the Rohingya were still not allowed to vote (the ethnic minority group has not been permitted to vote since 2015).
Aerobics instructor accidently captures Myanmar coup during workout video pic.twitter.com/7QA5dLzP7r
— The Independent (@Independent) February 2, 2021
Because the country was fully controlled by the Tatmadaw until a decade ago, they still feel a sense of “entitlement” to their positions. A coup brought them to power in 1962, and they still maintained a looming presence in the government. The Constitution, written in 2008, granted the military 25% of seats in parliament. In 2010 they won the election, before the military junta dissolved the following year. The 2015 elections were the first free ones, and the military’s favorability has been waning ever since then. The financial strain brought by the pandemic left the country more susceptible to internal destabilization. The Tatmadaw continues to claim they are protecting their Constitution, baselessly saying it was violated. The military has now reinstalled themselves to power and stated that they will hold control of the country for a year, then hold elections afterwards.
World leaders voiced concerns in the months leading up to the coup. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres labels the coup a “serious blow to democratic reforms.” Diplomatic heads in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand, Norway, the Delegation of the EU and European Union Member States Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden released a joint statement calling for democracy, “We urge the military, and all other parties in the country, to adhere to democratic norms, and we oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.” Newly elected U.S. President Biden has threatened sanctions. This is a test of the administration’s foreign policy, as Biden often touted his cooperation with world leaders while campaigning. The Obama administration spent a great deal of time building many of the democratic reforms that have now been unraveled.
Surrounding nations currently refuse to intervene in the matter. The coup does not come as a large shock, especially to these surrounding these countries, which intend to avoid violent conflict. India, a direct neighbor of Myanmar to the West, expressed “deep concern” over the coup, but will not make a move to intervene at the moment. India does not support sanctions, which is the same as Myanmar’s Eastern neighbor, China. India was previously concerned by China’s growing influence on Myanmar, as China and India continue to have conflict on Myanmar’s border regarding Northern rebel groups. China and India are currently clashing on the Line of Actual Control, with armored tanks on February 2, 2021. India and China may be the two dissenting voices on the UN Security Council on the matter.
There are few ways the military will come out of this coup in a positive light. The director of Burma Campaign UK, Mark Farmaner, told TIME, “It is very hard to see how the military can benefit from this coup. They will face protests and renewed international sanctions.” Still, the coup means the Tatmadaw has a renewed sense of power. In the face of rising and increasingly commodified unpopularity, reclaiming the government is very appealing to the military leaders. Gerard McCarthy, a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute, told BBC, “It is worth remembering that the current system is tremendously beneficial for the army: it has complete command autonomy, sizable international investment in its commercial interests and political cover from civilians for war crimes.”
Once hailed as an example of a nation’s civilians regaining control from the military, it appears that Myanmar’s decade of fragile peace was even more unstable than expected.