Myanmar has been battling for democracy with its own army for decades. In 2010 when the country got its first democratically elected government, citizens sighed in relief. But the short-lived happiness ended when the military of Myanmar overthrew the country’s frangible government in a coup d’état.
How did the coup happen? How international governments have reacted to the regime change? And is re-establishment of democracy possible in Myanmar.
Political history of Myanmar
Myanmar previously known as Burma is situated in southeast Asia. It got its independence from colonial rule in 1948 in a hope of a democratic nation. The country enjoyed democracy; but the short-lived happiness lasted only for 14 years before the army rule began in 1961 followed by a coup by Army General Ne Win.
Myanmar army ruled the country from 1962 to 2011. The increasing global pressure for democracy led Aung San Suu Kyi to become the country’s prime minister by winning the first democratic election in 2011.
Despite democracy, armed forces played a major part in the country’s politics. In the national parliament of 644 seats; 25 per cent seats were reserved for the army, leaving 476 seats for contesting in elections. In the election of 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy won by historical 396 seats.
But the Nobel Peace Prize winning prime minister; who was once beacon of human rights was kept ways from presidential seats; because the military drawn constitution forbids anybody married to foreigners from being Myanmar’s president.
The Myanmar coup
On 8th November 2020, Myanmar held its third general election in which majorly two parties competed with each other i.e. NLD and USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party). Again NLD won the election by a huge margin making Aung San Suu Kyi Myanmar’s prime minister again.
Army, on the other hand, has accused NLD of severe election irregularities and rejected the election results. Army believes that more than nine million duplicate votes were cast by the winning party. Myanmar’s election commission, also known as Union Election Commission was given a deadline of 1st February 2021 to prove that the election was fair otherwise the army would not let the new government enter the parliament.
The newly elected government was expected to take charge on 1st February, but the military had something else in mind. In the early morning, the army detained all the political leaders, announcing that the army has again taken charge of the country and declared a state of emergency for one year.
Now, all the political power of Myanmar have shifted to the army general Min Aung Hlaing, who also leads the country when it was approaching towards democracy before 2011.
What is the actual ground position?
The coup was announced at a time when Myanmar was recovering from coronavirus triggered lockdown. Almost no citizen had the idea of how their country will change overnight. Internet connection was soon blocked, all the international flights were cancelled. The army tried their best to disconnect politicians from people and people from the rest of the world.
After blocking Facebook, all the social media sites like Twitter and Instagram have been banned to curb the protest as the outrage over military coup intensified amongst people.
Post the coup civil disobedience is growing at an exponential rate, citizens are angry with the sudden change in the country’s political scenario. Fired up people are taking to the streets to march against the military coup and want their prime minister back in power; chanting, “Long live Mother Aung San Suu Kyi!”. A 28-year LGBTQ rights campaigner, Kyaw Kyaw says “Most of the citizens 100% depend on her, everyone was frustrated and scared.”
What was the international reaction?
Almost the entire world has condemned Myanmar’s army for the coup. US President Joe Biden have threatened the army to reinstate the sanctions. But a few neighbouring countries like Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines are saying that it is Myanmar’s “internal matter”. Whereas China describes the coup as “cabinet reshuffle”.
The united nations have asked the army to respect November’s election result and have called for a “return of democracy“. While talking about the Myanmar coup, UN’s Secretary-General, Mr Gueterres said, “We will do everything we can to make the international community united in making sure that conditions are created for this coup to be reversed”.
Can democracy still be restored after Myanmar coup?
Even though Myanmar was had a democratically elected government, but the truth is that the military never lost power in the country. The country’s flimsy push towards democracy revolved around Suu Kyi’s tremendous popularity. Before becoming the prime minister in 2011, she was kept detained in her house for more than 15 years. In recent time, the armed force of Myanmar had again retained their powerful influence over the country’s politics.
Advocacy groups say that the army knows how to suppress voices, in 2007’s pro-democracy demonstration, as many as 200 people were killed. Experts believe that despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s immense power in the country; until a concrete political system is established in the country, full democracy is a distant dream.