Myanmar’s Coup Takes Nation Back to the Past

In the early hours of 1 February, Myanmar’s military assumed control of the country in a coup. China “noted” this coup and hoped that all sides could properly manage their differences under the constitution and uphold stability. Monday was supposed to be a step towards democracy in Myanmar as Parliament launched a new session. Instead, the military launched a coup and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, is now back in jail. As reported by PBS news, the bridge to Parliament in the capital city is now being blocked by police, while the streets are filled with the military. Military supporters are filling the streets playing army anthems, and the police are keeping a close eye on citizens with the internet being shut off and airports shut down. Their Military TV declared a state of emergency and reported that army leader, Min Aung Hlaing, would take control for the next year. This marked the end of a five-year quasi-democracy. Along with the civilian leader, military officials have arrested dozens of officials.

In a statement, Suu Kyi called for peaceful resistance by stating, “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military… Only the people are important.” The UK, EU, and Australia are among the countries that have condemned the military takeover. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms.” U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions. However, not everyone has reacted this way. China has blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup. The country, which has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides to “resolve differences.” 

It is extremely disheartening to see the people of Myanmar fall under the same rule that took control of the country for years. The people of Myanmar are devastated by recent events, and are terrified of a return to the past. As explained in CNN, “Devastated residents in the country’s biggest city, Yangon, said history was repeating itself. With many still bearing the mental and physical scars of the past, they expressed fears that the intervening years were all for nothing.”

In order to understand why this issue persists, it is important to dive into the country’s history. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ridden with political instability since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Burma was ruled by the armed forces with an iron fist from 1962 until 2011, “asserting their absolute power over the people through fear and brutality,” as explained by CNN. However, in 2011 a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule. Between 2011 and 2015, a tentative democratic transition began and elections were held in 2015, resulting in Aung San Suu Kyi party’s victory. Suu Kyi was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner, who formed the first civilian government with her National League for Democracy Party and won elections by a landslide. However, the military retained a portion of the power, with the right to appoint ¼ of parliament members, as explained by BBC. The issue with the 2021 coup, as mentioned previously, is that during the November 2020 election the National League for Democracy won 396 out of 476 seats in parliament, while the military’s party, Union Solidarity and Development Party, only won 33. In recent events, according to a PBS news interview with Tun Myint, professor at Carleton College, “[t]he problems began in November when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won an election by a landslide. Military officials claimed the results were fraudulent and the voter rolls inaccurate.

It is clear that power is the real motive here, not the people of Myanmar. The two sides are extremely divided; however, with the military capable of taking control and declaring a national emergency for an entire year, it is questionable whether their nation has any form of balance in power. According to Professor Tun Myint, “[w]hen you dig deeper into the personal relationship between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military leaders… there are so many occasions that they have been robbing one another.” For this country to regain stability and peace, it is necessary for international moderation and involvement to attempt to bring trust within their people.