2021 Myanmar Coup D’état; the Coup De Grâce to Democracy

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4), Chao Fangning, Nicole (20-U5), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2), Rakshita Murugan (21-E1), Soh Iwin (20-E5), Young Wai Ming, Nicholas (20-E5).  

Designed by: Leow Jia Wen, Jolene (20-E1)

Introduction

Imagine waking up to utter chaos: The sound of sirens wailing in the distance as a rapid fire of bullets are  sounded, an unsettling atmosphere where heavily armed officers patrol your streets from dusk till dawn. Broadcasts suggest that your political leaders are captured and social upheaval soon erupts. Imagine living in an apocalyptic state: Communication networks are down, bank accounts are frozen, citizens rushing to the stores and sweeping the shelves clean. This was the reality for many Burmese on February 1st 2021, the day their whole lives were turned upside down. In this article, we will delve deeper into the coup that captured the headlines – The 2021 Myanmar Coup D’état.

Timeline of How the Coup Unraveled in the First 10 Days 

February 1st – The Junta captures Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other key leaders of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), prior to the new parliament’s first assembly.  

February 2nd- The US declares the takeover to be a coup. Civilians begin protesting in Yangon.

February 3rd- Healthcare workers boycott work as civilians partake in a civil disobedience campaign. Charges and detainment are filed against Ms Suu Kyi, while the Junta raids NLD offices and blocks Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp services for “stability”. 

February 4th- The UN Security Council calls for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and other NLD members but does not condemn the coup.

February 5th- Teachers and some government officials of the NLD boycott work until the elected government is restored. 

February 6th- The Tatmadaw blocks social media, engendering an internet blackout. 

February 7th- Internet access is restored, but social media platforms remain blocked. 

February 8th- Curfews are imposed to contain protests. Min Aung Hlaing, the army general, promises to hold new elections in a year.

February 9th- Police and protesters clash in the capital, Naypyidaw. 

February 11th- The US imposes sanctions on those in power, with threats to impose further sanctions with continued violence.  

Political Context of Myanmar: Fluctuations of Democracy

In understanding what incited the coup, it is imperative to realise Myanmar’s political landscape. After gaining independence in 1948, Myanmar became a parliamentary democracy until 1962, when military commander General Ne Win led a coup against the republican government. The country has since been ruled by a military junta until 2011, when democratic reforms were passed, allowing quasi-democratic government to form.

In 1990, the pro-democracy party National League for Democracy (NLD) was founded under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. From 2015 to early 2021, it had a brief stint as the ruling party after a landslide victory in the 2015 general election, until the coup d’etat this year. However, this coup d’etat is only one example in a long series of incidents where the NLD has been repressed – though it won parliamentary majority in the 1990 general election, their victory went unrecognised by the military, and across the years, the NLD has been boycotted, detained, harassed and even massacred by the military. 

Therefore, Myanmar’s relationship with democracy has always been tenuous at best. The military taking drastic action to maintain its iron-fisted rule in the form of its coup was thus an unfortunate, but expected development.

Proponents and Opponents of the Coup: Within Myanmar and Beyond 

What have different parties, both domestic and international, thought of the coup? In Myanmar, the military has said that a “free and fair” election will be held after the state of emergency ends, following their allegations that the results of the general election were tainted by electoral fraud. Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the coup, has said that the military will create a “true and disciplined democracy” for Myanmar citizens. However, reception from citizens has hardly been positive. The large scale protests and strikes against the military involving millions of citizens suggest that many of Myanmar’s people oppose the coup. Several Burmese politicians and celebrities have expressed public support of such efforts, and the NLD has encouraged citizens not to accept the military’s actions in an online public statement.

Outside of Myanmar, many countries have condemned the coup. The European Union, UK and US have established sanctions on key officials of the military. While China has not condemned the coup outright, it has supported calls for Ms Suu Kyi to be released and for issues in Myanmar to be resolved properly. The response of Southeast Asian countries have been mixed, with some nations such as Thailand avoiding direct criticism of the military while others like Malaysia condemning the situation there.

The Aftermath Effects on Myanmar 

Politically, Myanmar has seen its fair share of military juntas, defined as“a military government that has taken power in a country by force”, by the Cambridge Dictionary. After the dissolution of the Burmese military junta in 2011, Myanmar began being ruled democratically. In the 2015 and 2020 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide, sparking hopes that Myanmar would have a brighter political future. While she was the de facto leader, she was not allowed to become President as her children were foreign nationals. 

After the coup, Myanmar’s government is run by the military, with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing assuming all state power. During a National Defence and Security Council meeting, Hlaing announced that he would investigate fraud claims brought against the NLD in the 2020 elections and would hold a new election, effectively invalidating the NLD’s win. 

Socially, Myanmar has experienced months of civil unrest and chaos, the largest and deadliest in the country since the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Crackdowns by security forces have reportedly killed over 700 people, with over 90 per cent of the victims being shot dead. This suggests  a possible shoot-to-kill order given to the security forces. During Myanmar’s New Year festival of Thingyan, protestors also took to the streets and doused bus shelters and pavements in red, which symbolises the blood shed by those who had  died in the “struggle for democracy”.

Economic impacts of the coup include a crippled economy, as evident in Myanmar having the lowest GDP per capita amongst all the ASEAN states in 2020. Regionally, it saw a large dip in stock exchange rates, and had the least number of citizens interested in starting a business in 2020 as compared to other years. 

Religion wise, in an attempt to gain more support to establish their legitimacy, military generals have strengthened their ties  with local Buddhists, who make up 90% of the populace. This is seen through their heavy reliance on religious credentials and biased media reports. For instance, the media recurrently publicized officials doing moralistic or religious acts such as tidying pagodas, while officials prioritized the reopening of pagodas compared to other religious sites. Surprisingly, there was also a religious impact of the military coup on those who were against it, for it united various religious groups which were previously fragmented when they came together to fight for a common purpose. 

Evaluation of Efforts Made Against the Coup 

None of the efforts made against the coup thus far have been  effective, or would turn out to be effective. The consensus is clear- ultimately, the greatest power that any institution in Myanmar holds belongs to the Junta. It is only if major nations intervene to take concrete actions against the Junta, or if the Junta themselves undo their actions under the influence of some miraculous epiphany, that democracy can live on.

Although any form of negotiation between the military Junta and its people could potentially de-escalate tensions, this has not been happening. Mobile data has been cut for weeks, and the list of restrictions to internet access — especially past nighttime — has only been ever-increasing. Sadly, as history has shown, isolation and fear are effective tools to  distract society from repelling needless power-grabs. 

If such conflicts are to be avoided in the foreseeable future, regional bodies have to refrain from exercising coercive force to prove that “might is right”. Communities must strengthen their spirit of wanting to defend the laws that portray their collective identity. This recurring trend of military takeover has been deeply rooted in Myanmar politics, making it unsurprising that yet another generation of Burmese might let this episode slide. ASEAN has been  known for its withstanding principles on non-interference. The question remains–how long more till nations stop standing idly by? How might Myanmar woefully shift its regional culture?

With the Junta closely monitoring the protestors, it is unlikely that the political unrest will cease anytime soonThere have been instances of blackouts where restrictions remain uneased. They have opened fire during violent protests. 

We have to approach this matter with an objective eye- after all, our sympathy holds no worth in helping de-escalate the situation, unless through activism (which is impossible for financially dependent individuals like us). Burma is undergoing a crisis, and our privilege is that we can only sit back and watch. 

We conclude this issue with a final quote, 

“TWO AND TWO MAKES FIVE” ~ George Orwell.

Bibliography 

  1. Barker, A. (2015, November 10). Why is Aung San Suu Kyi barred from becoming president of Myanmar? ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-10/myanmar-election-explained/6928542?nw=0
  2. Council on Foreign Relations. (n.d.). Myanmar’s Troubled History: Coups, Military Rule, and Ethnic Conflict. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/myanmar-history-coup-military-rule-ethnic-conflict-rohingya
  3. Heijmans, P. (2021, March 10 ). Brawling Myanmar Monks Show Buddhist Nationalists Backing Coup. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from Bloomberg : https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-09/brawling-myanmar-monks-show-buddhist-nationalists-backing-coup 
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  5. junta. Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/junta
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  7. Myanmar security forces arrest prominent leader of anti-coup campaign. CNA. (2021, April 15). https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/myanmar-coup-security-forces-arrest-prominent-campaign-leader-14627462
  8. Opponents of Myanmar coup form unity government, aim for ‘federal democracy’. CNA. (2021, April 16). https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/myanmar-coup-opponents-national-unity-government-14634528
  9. Tyson, A. S. (2021, March 26). Myanmar protesters bridge religious divides to counter military coup. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from The Christian Science Monitor : https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2021/0326/Myanmar-protesters-bridge-religious-divides-to-counter-military-coup 
  10. Reuters. (2021, April 7). Myanmar security forces kill 15 protesters, junta leader says opposition aims to “destroy” country. Reuters. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-idUSKBN2BU0F3
  11. AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES. (23 February 2021). Timeline of events in Myanmar since February 1 coup. https://www.google.com.sg/amp/s/www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2021/2/23/timeline-of-events-in-myanmar-since-february-1-coup

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