Updated: Aug 25, 2021
It was just another chilly morning at Naypyitaw on the 1st of February 2021. Aerobic instructor Khing Hnin Wa was live-streaming her regular dance exercise routine in front of Parliament road. All seemed well until a convoy of military vehicles appeared and headed towards the Parliament of Myanmar. What her students just witnessed was a coup being broadcasted live.
The military of Myanmar or ‘Tatmadaw’ led by Commander in Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized powers from the elected members of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Thereafter announcing a year-long state of emergency. The coup took place on the day of the formation of the government by the candidates of the winning party. Aung San Suu Kyi was detained on charges of illegal possession of walkie-talkies. In the next few days, scores of protesters took to the streets to express their displeasure towards the military.
A three-finger gesture of defiance tracing its origin to the hunger games became the unifying symbol of pro-democracy protests. Though non-violent, the military quelled agitations all over the country using excessive force, leading to some protesters losing their lives. The military’s technique of suppressing protests using an iron fist backfired. A nationwide civil disobedience movement was organised. The military doubled down and now instructed its officers to shoot at unarmed protestors shouting slogans. Those officers who hesitated ended up resigning and are on the run to avoid being captured. Meanwhile, others have joined the opposite side, now taking up arms against the military and their former colleagues to bring back democracy to Myanmar.
The military alleges voting malpractice thereby declaring the results of the elections in which the NLD won by a landslide as null and void. This is the reasoning given by the military for its actions. There are many reasons why this development has baffled experts. One, during the voting process, international watchdogs in Myanmar did not report any malpractice. Two, even though Aung San Suu Kyi and the military were at odds, the Nobel Laureate went to the International Criminal Court to defend the actions of the General, who was accused of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Three, the Tatmadaw is no longer insular. It has financial assets in many countries making it vulnerable to economic sanctions. The military has a great deal to lose from its actions.
What could push the country over the edge to a point of no return is the increasing intensity of clashes between the pro-democracy protestors and the military. Another reason is the formation of a splinter faction of the non-violent group that believes in using violence. This, coupled with the fact that there is no central leader from the pro-democracy side could lead to a situation that spirals out of control into an all-out civil war. Many accuse China of orchestrating the coup by pulling the strings behind the scenes. But the reality is that China did not want the coup to happen because it had good relations with Aung San Suu Kyi. India on the other hand has maintained a diplomatic stance, neither condemning the power grab nor supporting it. This is due to the fact that India needs Myanmar’s military cooperation to keep armed militias in the Seven Sister states under control.
These could be the possible motives behind the power grab.
One, General Min Aung Hlaing could be apprehensive about being held accountable for crimes against humanity committed under his watch, especially since he was due to retire in a couple of years.
Two, Since the NLD won in a landslide victory he could be anxious about the elected government removing the military’s 25% reservation in the upper and lower houses of parliament, thereby denying the military’s ability to veto any changes to the constitution without its approval.
Three, the NLD winning in constituencies dominated by military officers suggested that even people working for the military found the NLD and its promises alluring.
British Broadcasting Company. (2021, March 5th). Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar democracy icon who fell from grace. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977
Subramanian, N. (2021, February 3rd). Explained: What has led to the coup in Myanmar? The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-has-led-to-the-coup-in-myanmar-7169624/
PEDERSEN, M. B. (2021, February 16th). The 2021 Myanmar coup: what is different this time? UNSW Canberra. https://asialink.unimelb.edu.au/insights/the-2021-myanmar-coup-what-is-different-this-time
Mangal, M. (2021, February 4th). Youtube. https://youtu.be/gkk74DUfB7g
Bisbo. (2021, March 13th). Yet again, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi is displaced in a military coup. What happens next? Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUe4HLKPL7E