Writer: Harry Zhao
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer: Janice Cheng
On the 1st of February, 2021, following a general election in Myanmar, and just as a new session of parliament was being prepared, the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, overthrew the government in a coup d’etat, stirring massive amounts of civil unrest and protests all over the country. This was the third military coup in Myanmar's history.
Before the takeover, Aung San Suu Kyi, representing the NLD (National League of Democracy) in Myanmar, won the democratic election in November. The election was one of the first elections to be considered democratic in the country’s history, as Myanmar had been mostly ruled by a totalitarian or military government since 1960.
International overseers of the election found flaws in the election process: the NLD’s tight control on propaganda and media, the government's empty promises of economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic swaying the voters' decisions, and the restrictions on the Rohingya, Indo-Burmese and Sino-Burmese communities’ voting rights. The opposition party and their supporting armed forces also spread widespread claims of election fraud, which the domestic election committee of Myanmar did not obtain evidence for.
Although beloved by many Burmese people, Aung San Suu Kyi has a controversial international reputation. She pushed for democracy in Myanmar, called for free elections, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. However, she, too, had denied and remained silent about the Rohingya genocide propagated by the Burmese military, where millions of Rohingya Muslims were killed, forced to evacuate to neighbouring countries, or denied citizenship. Her lack of action and defence towards the military’s atrocities has attracted much international backlash and condemnation. Since the military coup, Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained by the military under house arrest and is facing severe allegations of breaking the Official Secrets Act and transporting several illegal walkie-talkies.
In a recent interview, Min Aung Hlaing reported that she was in good health and would appear in court soon.
The military coup d’état has sparked a large-scale protest in Myanmar, with protesters consisting of teachers, lawyers, students, bank officers and government officials. This has been known locally as the Spring Revolution and has been met with brutal police and military reaction. Several hundred people have fled to neighbouring countries such as Thailand and India, most of which are journalists and human rights defenders.
Protesters within Myanmar have used a number of nonviolent ways to protest against the military; healthcare workers began a “Civil Disobedience Movement” and staged a labour strike, which quickly spread across different economic industries and sectors, such as transport, education, mining and civil service. This movement halted much of the country’s activity and ceased COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and authorities have threatened and urged workers to return to their posts. People have banged pots in unison nightly to protest, and openly displayed red items, like ribbons, to represent their opposition. However, a number of citizens from within the military circle or those with connections to the military still support the military junta because of economic gains. Yet, most people have lost faith in the military's promises of restoring democracy and are willing to continue protesting to reinstate and preserve their freedom.
Military leaders overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on 1 February (Getty Images)
The military-controlled government has responded with physical force as well as restrictions. They issued a social media and internet blackout, cutting access to sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia. The people lost connection with much of the world, and even with relatives within the country. They are unable to access web information, they have marital laws that force nightly curfews from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., and have been banned from attending gatherings of more than five people. By the 4th of April, around 2500 people have been detained and 564 have been killed. The police used rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesting crowds, but have also opened fire on even children, and used lethal force against peaceful protesters. After the military shut down the airport, people were prevented from leaving the country, and the incoming COVID-19 vaccines were blocked. Arrest warrants were issued against activists, journalists and other voices opposing the junta government.
Mandalay on 3rd March 2021, when 38 people were reported killed by security forces. (Photo: STR/AFP)
The United Nation, the United States, the United Kingdom and France have all voiced their condemnation of the military coup, and students from all around the world have also been showing their support of the protesters. However, the issue at hand is a delicate one; the United States, China, and ASEAN all have to act carefully as neither the military, nor the protesters, seem willing to compromise, and a peaceful negotiation has yet to come.
The situation of the military coup in Myanmar is devastating and difficult to resolve. With the military holding a tight fist over the country, restoring democracy would present itself as a slippery problem. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi's controversial reputation for protecting the actions of the military against the Rohingya Muslims, there is a clear need for the military rule to end, and for democracy to return to Myanmar.