Unchecked Power: How Did Myanmar’s Military Stage A Coup D’État?

On the 1st of February, Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, planned a calculated coup d’état to overthrow Myanmar’s ruling political party called the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Tatmadaw arrested Aung San Suu Kyi who is the leader of the NLD, president Win Myint as well as other government officials. Their whereabouts are unknown at this point of time. The military has declared a one-year state of emergency and has transferred all legislative, executive and judicious power to the military’s commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, mastermind behind the 2017 genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw have blocked access to the busiest cities in Myanmar, Naypyitaw and Yangon. The military has cut internet connections and blocked domestic and international channels from being broadcasted. In a show of resistance, the people of Yangon have paraded to the streets at night, banging their pots and pans, staging a cacerolazo against the military. Al Jazeera described it as a “nocturnal cacophony” pulsing through the city.

The UN Secretary General described the coup as a “serious blow to  democratic reforms” and has demanded the release of at least 45 people who have been detained by the Tatmadaw.

The military’s actions have also generated worldwide condemnation. President Joe Biden released a statement, “the military’s seizure of power… is a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and to the rule of law.” He then stressed that “the U.S. had previously removed sanctions on Burma… but the reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review.” “The U.S. will stand for democracy wherever it is under attack.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the coup and the arrests calling it an “unlawful imprisonment.”

The Brisbane resident Robi Alam, who is one of the Rohingyas that escaped, told ABC that “the military has no mercy, no humanity left in them. I think we might even need to see foreign armies stepping into this.”

The military has declared, although many critics are doubtful, that it would hold a fair election at the end of 2021. If this is true, then the military will have access to unchecked authoritative power for one whole year. This is alarming, bearing in mind that the world has already witnessed the murder of civilians at the hands of the military when it decided to launch a genocidal operation against the minority Rohingya Muslims back in 2017. It was estimated that more than 10,000 Rohingya Muslims died and thousands more became displaced. This genocide was met with little resistance and condemnation from Aung San Suu Kyi but it generated worldwide censure that had little influence on the military.

Today, the military has proved that they are above government and above the rule of law. Past actions have shown that they are unafraid to carry out destructive methods of control. In fact, Al Jazeera reported that at least 18 peaceful protesters were killed in one day alone, on February 28th, as security forces opened fire across various cities in Myanmar. Myanmar will most likely be subjected to more arrests, more restrictions and an increasing civilian death toll. The future is uncertain.

The military’s coup started after the military backed opposition party lost against NLD’s landslide victory in 2020. The military then declared a constitutional emergency, staging a coup, claiming that there was large scale voter fraud in the 2020 Myanmar elections. However, there have been no evidence of voter fraud as of yet.

Tatmadaw’s extensive control over Myanmar originated before its independence in 1948. The military identified itself as the ‘defender of national sovereignty from its earlier role in combating against Japanese and colonial forces,’ as stated by Roger Lee Huang in his article called ‘Rethinking Myanmar’s Political Regime.’ Huang argued that the military’s purpose had evolved from fighting external threats to overseeing internal security and development of the country, the military saw its self as the ‘guardian of national security.’ This title now serves as a tool to justify the military’s questionable and often destructive actions. Knowing this, historian Thant Myint tweeted that “I have a sinking feeling that no one will be able to control what comes next.”

The Tatmadaw’s unchecked power will cause chaos in Myanmar. The Organization for World Peace will continue to monitor the situation as the story unfolds.