ISSN 2330-717X

Myanmar Democracy In Peril Again – OpEd

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Myanmar (earlier known as Burma) has lost another opportunity to emerge as a democratic nation in Southeast Asia as its military, popularly known as Tatmadaw, has recaptured the power declaring emergency hours before the first session of new Parliament was schedule to begin on 1 February morning.

The country’s military operated Myawaddy television channel announced on early morning hours that Myanmar has been put under emergency for one year using necessary provisions of 2008 constitution transferring legislative, executive and judicial powers to military commander-in-chief and appointed former vice-president U Myint Swe, a retired military general, as the temporary President.

Local sources in Yangon claimed that National League for Democracy (NLD) chief Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves the country’s State Counsellor, along with President U Win Myint, State chief ministers U Phyo Min Thein, Dr Zaw Myint Maung, Dr Aung Moe Nyo, Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint and U Nyi Pu were detained at their residences. Unconfirmed reports suggest that a number of pro-democracy and human rights activists were also arbitrarily arrested in different parts of the country.

Since the morning, the phone lines and internet connections in various parts of Myanmar had gone out of order. Military personnel with armoured vehicles were deployed in several important locations. The timing was significant as the Parliament’s first session was put on hold and nobody turned to the Naypyitaw venue.

The conflict started with the outcome of national elections, held on 8 November 2020, where the NLD nominated candidates achieved huge success but the military sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) suffered a humiliating defeat. Even after enjoying an advantage with the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, the USDP won only 33 out of 476 available seats in the Parliament.

On the other hand, Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi led NLD won 396 seats in both lower and upper houses of Parliament (where 322 is the magic number to establish majority). The daughter of Burmese freedom struggles hero General Aung San, established a landslide win in the last general elections (2015), prior to which she was under house arrest for decades by the military junta.

The military authority (through the USDP) continued its accusation of widespread electoral frauds by the NLD led government. The country’s election commission has already ruled out any irregularity in the electoral exercise. Later the USDP filed an official complaint in the Supreme Court of Myanmar even though the institution has very limited influence in the country.

“There is no evidence to support the fraud and the situation escalated rapidly over the last few days with the military refusing to rule out a coup,” said the London based Burma Campaign UK in a statement adding that it is unclear at this stage what the military hope to achieve by their actions as they have benefited significantly since they began the reform process ten years back.

Mentionable is that Myanmar’s top military officer Min Aung Hlaing recently revealed that the constitution (which says only the President can impose emergency in Myanmar, not by Tatmadaw) could be modified in the urgent need of law-enforcements and safeguarding the country’s integrity.

Another military officer Zaw Min Tun, who functions as Tatmadaw spokesman, insisted that they would impose laws in accordance with the situation.

Whatever the motives, this situation now needs to be met with the strongest international response as Myanmar had experiences of coups in 1962 and 1988 since its independence (from the colonial British administration in 1948). The military need to be made to understand that they have made a major miscalculation in thinking they can get away with this, asserted the campaign group.

Even though Suu Kyi has lost her iconic image in international arena, because of around 700,000 Rohingya exodus in 2017 from Rakhine (Arakan) State, she continues to be a dominating politician in Myanmar. The lady, who is barred from becoming the President by the new constitution (as she has a foreign husband), still faces global condemnations individually as the military chased those Muslim Rohingya people in the name of counter-terrorism operations.

Speaking to the writer from Yangon, an NLD aligned political activist Win Naing (not his real name), commented that many individuals do not prefer to accept the defeat. They may be hardcore supporters of former US President Donald Trump or the Tatmadaw generals who fight polls and don’t like to hear the negative outcomes.

“However the Trump supporters failed to uproot the new regime in Washington as the country has a solid base for democracy, but here in Myanmar, where we have a quasi-democracy only, the military generals succeeded,” commented Win Naing adding that it would only slip Myanmar into the darkness for some more years.

Meanwhile, a number of Burma centric organizations denounced the ‘apparent coup in Myanmar’ and associated violence after suspending the civilian government and effectively returned full power to the military. The military should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained and return to Parliament to reach a peaceful resolution with all relevant parties, added the groups including Progressive Voice, ALTSEAN-Burma, Women’s Peace Network, etc.

They also appealed to the UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to respond to the situation including sending a delegation to Myanmar, the international community to urgently establish a comprehensive response, including targeted sanctions against the military and their partners’ business enterprises and conditionality on diplomatic, economic and security relations, handover of power to a civilian-controlled parliament.

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Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Assam, Northeast India) based journalist

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