After a decade of a civilian government being in power in Myanmar, the country’s military has announced it's taking back control.
As the news broke on Monday of the detainment of leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s and other democratically elected leaders, it dealt a blow to Myanmar’s slowly progressing democracy after five years under the National League for Democracy party (NLD).
Myanmar was ruled by armed forces from 1962 until 2011 when democratic reforms led by Suu Kyi ended the military rule. In 2015, her NLD party won the country’s first open democratic election.
But inside Myanmar politics, the military has had a strong influence because of a law made in the 2008 constitution that guarantees the military, also called the Tatmadaw, a quarter of all seats in the country’s parliament.
The 2020 Myanmar General Elections in November saw The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the military-backed opposition, lose heavily to Suu Kyi’s democracy party. The opposition contested the results, claiming there was widespread fraud.
Signs of tension had been rising in recent days, and even the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing himself had warned that the country’s 2008 constitution could go the way of previous charters “if the law is not abided by.”
And on Monday, on the day that the NLD’s second term should have begun, the military has taken over, declaring a one-year-long state of emergency with Min Aung Hlaing, taking power.
Upon detaining military will hold a “free and fair general election” has stated that power will be passed to whoever wins in another general election.
Several world leaders reacted to the coup, including New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta who released a statement calling for the release of those detained.
“New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of Myanmar’s democratic transition.
“We call for the swift release of all those political actors detained, including State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, and for a rapid return to civilian rule.
“An election has taken place and the democratic will of the people must be respected. We confirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic institutions and the rule of law,” the statement read.
On Monday, an official Facebook page of the NLD published a statement on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, saying people should not accept the military coup.
Win Htein, the NLD chairman, hand wrote on the bottom that the letter was authentic, and its message shared the wishes of the NLD Leader, Reuters reported.
But many users on social media have suggested the letter is fake, saying the Democratic Party wouldn’t call for people to put lives at risk.
During Monday’s stunning events, those inside Myanmar have spoken about the current state within the country, unsure of what will happen next.
A local Burmese journalist, who preferred to stay anonymous as freedom of speech and press are not guaranteed by law, said that it’s a waiting game to see the new orders of the military.
“If people protest, the military can coup legally by the constitution. People need to wait for the situation and order. If not, many people will die because of the historical background.
"Most people [are] worried about that. Thousands of people died in the 8888 revolution. Dozens of people died in the 2007 revolution,” the journalist said.
Reports during the day said that Internet communication networks were shut down, with users having to resort to WiFi to stay online. Banks across the country have been closed, with images surfacing of large queues for ATM machines.
Speaking with expats in the country, who also preferred not to be named, have voiced their concerns, claiming there is a mood of “fear” in some parts of the country.
One teacher based in Yangon, said, “I teach online now due to Covid19. I woke up and couldn’t connect to the Internet for my classes. Later the Internet came back, cutting in and out. All classes at my school had to be suspended."
“I have been told not to go outside. The mood is one of fear. Everyone is keeping quiet, not even posting on Facebook and afraid of what is to come.”
Another expat, a business owner in Yangon, said that there is “hope for a peaceful outcome” but admitted they were “ready to evacuate if the situation escalates.”
“There are tanks and military vehicles in the downtown areas. I’m worried that large-scale protests will be met with excessive use of force. As a parent, my main concern is my children,” the expat said.
The latest update on Monday evening was that local Burmese news reported 24 people including ministers of Suu Kyi’s government were dismissed, whilst 11 new ministers were been appointed by the military.
- Asia Media Centre