By Saptarshi Sarmah
The current political turmoil in Myanmar is indubitably an appalling example of blatant neglect of the value of human rights and their lives and the 11th of this month marks the 100th day of the notorious coup undertaken by Myanmar’s military (or the Tatmadaw as recognized in Myanmar), and the resistance laid against the institution by the undaunted Burmese citizens.
Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand and this geographical location of Myanmar has resulted in several ethnic groups being prevalent in society. The feud between these indigenous groups worsened under the Japanese and British rule. Since independence, major regional rebellions detonated, and the military emerged as the sole force regulating these vast numbers of indigenous groups and their conflicts and tried ascertaining that the ethnic Burman majority stay on the top. The military stabilized its presence as the only peacekeepers of law and order and enforced military rule over that region for 50 long years.
Bodacious mass protests against the authoritarian aspects of the military rule broke out, as the citizens withstood violent crackdowns by the military. Amidst these, Aung San Suu Kyi made a name for her and emerged as the face of opposition, leading Burmese nationals in this struggle. They subjected her to 15 years of house arrest and because of her commitment to the individuals of Myanmar and for her efforts toward attaining the unimaginable gesture of peace; she has been conferred with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
What followed was an experiment with democracy when the army gave up its absolute power in 2011 and tried to bring in a strange, hybrid nature of “discipline-flourishing democracy,” as the Constitution of 2008 incorporated (devised by the military itself). The Tatmadaw had no choice but to traipse with their “roadmap to democracy” partly because of increasing pressure from the West and partly because of their realization that Myanmar direly needed economic and financial help and under such circumstances, the country could not be kept off-limits to the global community. Under the Constitution, the military reserves for itself 25 percent of seats in both Houses of Parliament, to which it appoints serving military officials. It further kept control of the defence, interior ministries, and key positions in the cabinet. A political party served as a proxy for the military to contest elections, whose share of seats fell further because of the NLD’s sweep in the polls. The military created two vast conglomerates made up of local foreign companies and the military’s economic holdings extended right throughout the economy. Suu Kyi’s relationship with the Tatmadaw has been one of rapprochement until this recent stand-off. Her defense of the Tatmadaw in the International Court of Justice at The Hague, when the military was guilty of the ruthless crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims, astonished her supporters. One wonders that if the Tatmadaw was all-powerful and was at the helm of state affairs then why it had to go to such lengths and opt for an unlawful coup.
What fuelled the yearnings for a coup resulted from the November elections where the vote reflected the referendum on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government as her NLD party won a whopping 83% of the total seats, in the meantime crushing the main opposition party which is backed by the military. The Tatmadaw alleged that the November election results were wrought with deceit and that the NLD cheated the mandate (which seems highly unlikely regarding the widespread support that the party received). Following such allegations, General Min Aung Hlaing thundered that if the Constitution is not adhered to, it should be revoked, thus alluding to a coup. Per contra, the diplomatic approaches of both sides failed during the conference that occurred on 28th January where the military requested a recount of the vote to the United Election Commission (UEC) of Myanmar and the government, and postponement of the new session of Parliament, to which both the UEC and government declined. The military’s flagrant retort was to detain Suu Kyi and several other prominent leaders of NLD, Chief Minister of various regions, and eminent leaders of the 1988 protests. To silence public opinion, internet and phone connections have been obstructed, and the media can swoon the days of free and fair journalism. The General’s office announced an additional emergency period of one year following which fresh elections would be held. These events reminded the world order of the atrocious annexation of power by the military after the bloody suppression of the 1988 insurrection when identically it had elections in 1990 but overlooked the results as they were not in the military’s favor.
Speculations as to the underlying motives for the coup has emanated as one strand of the theory supposes that the General and other senior officers of the military were worried about the new government bringing in reforms, especially attempts at reforming the Constitution, while the alternative theory supposes that General Min Aung Hlaing is acting in his self-interest, at the threshold of retirement, and the coup could be a desperate move to salvage his political career and future when the civilian government is trying to bring the country under civilian control (unavailingly). The global community’s response is overwhelming while condemning the Tatmadaw’s immorality but they are powerless as China and Russia are ready to veto any move against the military as Russia is a prominent supplier of the armory to the Tatmadaw and similarly, China is indifferent to the question of power politics till the time their Belt and Road Initiative is secured, of which Myanmar is a significant part.
What comes out on the other side of this political struggle is consequential, especially for Asia. Myanmar’s slip into a state of failure would immensely affect Asia because of the geopolitical location of Myanmar and because the practice of drug trafficking has increased manifold, of which the Tatmadaw is allegedly a part. Not to mention how a rise in migration to other countries from Myanmar has already affected the geopolitics of this region in the past couple of years. Alternatively, if Myanmar witnesses the dawn of a new beginning then it would emerge as a shining example as it is the young generation of the country that is leading most of the struggle and their win would mark an important chapter in the books of history, therefore, ennobled as one of the most significant wins of democracy.