Coup in Myanmar
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
After 10 years of democracy, the military retakes control alleging electoral fraud.
By: Julie Sulser
On Monday morning, after 10 years of civilian rule, Myanmar’s military announced it had seized control of the country and declared a one year state of emergency until new elections would be held. This came shortly before parliament was set to sit following the election last November. The civilian government’s leaders and hundreds of legislators were detained under house arrest, 24 ministers removed, and a number of replacements announced as the military seized power. Telephone lines and internet connections were interrupted, flights grounded, and roadblocks put in place as the coup unfolded. State counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi ── known for both her role in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy and her condoning of the Rohingya crackdowns ── as well as President Win Myint, remain under house arrest, their exact whereabouts unknown.
Photo courtesy of Somchai Kongkamsri via Pexels
The official reason for this coup is alleged election fraud. In 2020 the National League for Democracy (NLD) under Aung San Suu Kyi gained over 80% of the votes, a landslide win, and a large increase from the previous 2015 election (the first after decades of military rule). Meanwhile, the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won only 6.9%. Already, days before the election, the military had announced it would not accept the outcome of the election, and just last Wednesday military chief, Aung Hlaing threatened a coup. The military claims that an investigation had shown 10.5 million suspicious votes, but has not presented any evidence of that claim. Myanmar’s election commission has said there is no support for the allegations.
The military also criticises that the elections were not postponed in light of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite its election loss, however, the military would have held some power in the ousted government. This is due to the military-designed constitution of 2008 that automatically gives the military 25% of seats. These are enough for a veto and for making changes to the constitution impossible, as well as having control over several important ministries. The loss, therefore, did not ultimately threaten the military’s power but was highly symbolic.
Another potential reason for the coup that has been put forward is that military chief Min Aung Hlaing, who has been indicted as a key figure in the Rohingya crackdown, is securing his power and wealth. Observers, such as the campaign group Justice for Myanmar, note that the General and his family have long profited from his authority over the military’s two major conglomerates.
The General also harbours presidential ambitions, shaken by the previous election, and the coup comes shortly before his 65th birthday when he will be required to leave his military post.
Reactions to the coup have been widespread condemnation and calls for the release of the detained officials, with the US stating it might impose restrictions similar to the ones in place before the transition to civilian government in 2011. China’s government did not expressively condemn the events but ‘noted’ them, urging for stability to be restored. The UN Security Council is currently in an emergency meeting to discuss the developments and in the process of negotiating a statement.
The article is an entry to the 2021 Writing Competition of The Gaudie International.