24th April 2021
The democratic spirit in Myanmar has faced several backlashes since the time of its inception as an independent country. The recent coup in 2021 has reflected the similar narrative of curbing the democratic aspects of the country where the military rule was imposed by overthrowing the elected government. The imposition of military rule in the country has negatively impacted the relations with other countries, which has led to severe sanctions from the big powers of the world.
The history of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has witnessed several coup d’état since its independence in the year 1948 and the establishment of dictatorship from the military (Tatmadaw). In the dawn of 2021, Myanmar witnessed another coup d’état removing the democratically elected government and establishing the military rule and implementing emergency rule for one year. The aftermath of this incident has led to severe repercussions both from inside and outside of the country. In the internal context, it has been seen that a mass revolt by the people against the military rule, and even the international media is anticipating civil war in the country. In the external context, nations across the world is vehemently raising their voice against the military rule in Myanmar and imposing sanctions in terms of trade and diplomatic ties.
2020 Myanmar Elections
The people of Myanmar exercise their democratic rights to establish a civilian government, which would facilitate the general people and preserve the rights and liberties of the people. Hence the people gave their mandate in favour of the National League for Democracy (NLD), where it has been seen that out of 346 seats, NLD won 322 seats. The State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint came to power again. Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) which is backed by the military demanded re-election as they were in the opinion that the election was biased in favour of the NLD. The USDP put up several allegations against the irregularities that were practiced by Aung San Suu Kyi during the time of elections. The USDP claimed that Aung and her party NLD influenced the people in order to win the election; it was also raised by the USDP that Aung took $600,000 and gold in order to influence the election aspects but the USDP was unable to put up any substantive evidence against Aung and her party. In 2020 General Elections, NLD won with a thumping majority and the Heads of State of India, Singapore and Japan extended their regards to the newly elected government of Myanmar.
2021 coup d’état in Myanmar
On 1 February 2021, the military of Myanmar overthrew the civilian government from power and established the military rule in the country. It had been reported that curfew was imposed on the country unsettling the internet and broadcasting services. The military removed 24 ministers, which include ministers and deputy ministers and forced to reallocate portfolios to people of their choice. Currently the country is being run by the Chairman of the State Administration Council of Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing who is the Senior General in the Army.
The military rule in Myanmar is taking harsh steps in order to suppress the democratic rights of the people and imposing the one year of emergency in the county. The State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged of violating the Covid-19 pandemic guidelines as mentioned and employing walkie-talkie during the 2020 General Election in the country. The USDP claimed that Aung and NLD were trying to influence the people during the time of elections and hence in order to protect spirit of free and fair elections these activities are unjust. However, the USDP in the month of February staged a coup and overthrew the democratically elected party and imposed emergency rule in the country. People from different section of society participated in the demonstration against the military rule that has been imposed. It has been seen that on 28 March 2021, the military junta gunned down 100 protesters who were peacefully placing their voices for the reestablishment of the democratic set up of the country.
Strong responses came from across the globe as the Myanmar military toppled the democratically elected government. The President of United States of America, Joe Biden had vehemently protested against the attack on the democratic spirit of Myanmar and initially put sanctions in terms of trade and other relations. After the oppressive measures taken by the military by killing 100 protesters, the US has suspended all ties with the country. The French President Emmanuel Macron has urged the military of Myanmar to respect the democratic practices and the elected government. Severe responses came from the United Kingdom, where Dominic Raab who is the Foreign Secretary has officially announced the imposition of sanctions over three generals of Myanmar. Defence Minister General Mya Tun Oo, Home Affairs Minister Lt General Soe Htut and Deputy Home Affairs Minister Lt General Than Hlaing have been identified and put sanctions on by the Government of UK. As a closest neighbour of Myanmar, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister for External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar vehemently protested against the toppling of the democratically elected government.
As of the first week of April 2021, the ex-State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi went to the court on the charges put up by the junta, which alleged that she took remittance in gold and about $600,000 in cash. The USDP claimed that Aung and her party NLD influenced the people in order to win the election; it was also raised by the USDP that Aung took $600,000 and gold in order to influence the election aspects but the USDP was unable to put up any substantive evidence against Aung and her party. After the February 2021 coup, the USDP escalated with these charges against Aung and had to face legal consequences. Massive protests across the country have been seen and the oppressive measures have been taken by the military. It has been seen that the people are requesting international observation on Myanmar’s internal political situation and to re-establish the elected government. The United Nations’ special envoy for Myanmar has warned on the possibilities of a Civil War within the Myanmar.
Democracy is one of the most acceptable models of statecraft across the globe but in Myanmar, the military junta has ruptured the spirit of democracy. The history of Myanmar has seen many such killings of democratic practices in the past and with the progress in time, it has been seen that it has significantly impacted on the economic aspect of the country. It has been seen that the countries who believe in democratic practices are showing solidarity with the people of Myanmar. In the meantime, it has also been seen that many countries putting sanctions on Myanmar which has put the country in isolation in terms of economic developments and diplomatic relations. People of the country is putting stiff resistance against the oppressive rule in the country and staging protest as well as claiming assistance from the world leaders to help the country. Therefore, it is essential for the neighbouring countries such as India to reach out and resolve the issues under the ambit of its “Neighbourhood First” policy. On the other hand, the role of the ASEAN will be crucial in terms of the future narratives of Myanmar as a part of the regional set up.
*The author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies (KIIPS)