Myanmar military takeover

Military seize control of Myanmar as new parliamentary term set to begin, declaring a year-long state of emergency

Photo by The New York Times.

— 2 minute read — By Sam Portillo

On 1st February, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency and placing government leaders under house arrest.

Although the country had transitioned to a more democratic system in 2011, the Burmese military – known locally as the Tatmadaw – had managed to maintain their power and influence over affairs. In last November’s general election, the ruling National League for Democracy party received about 60 percent of the popular vote, winning re-election for another term. By comparison, the military’s political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development Party took closer to 5 percent of the vote.

The opposition party and military officials maintained to the public that the election results were corrupted by widespread fraud. The day before the new parliament was set to reopen, military officials kidnapped their political opposition in the early morning. They also blocked phone lines and Internet access for people in the capital, while the state-run television broadcaster said it was facing “technical issues”.

The now-reigning military reports that power has been redirected to its highest-ranking official, Min Aung Hlaing. The 64 year old general joined the military as a cadet after studying law at Yangon University. Impressing his seniors over the course of his career, he became Commander of the Bureau of Special Operations 2 in 2009, a role which gave him power over the northeastern region of the country which is – or, was – heavily populated by ethnic minorities.

Under his tyrannical command, tens of thousands of refugees fled the country to places like Bangladesh. Despite international condemnations of his treatment of Rohingya Muslims, and allegations that he had raped and murdered troops, Min received another promotion in 2010, becoming joint Chief of Staff.

The junta has replaced democratically-elected ministers for issues such as finance, health, and foreign affairs, with its own personnel, leading to concerns about Myanmar’s short-term stability in dealing with challenges such as coronavirus, which, until now, under the watch of the democratic government, killed a relatively low 3,000 people in the nation of 54 million.

Most Burmans will be old enough to remember the hardships and restrictions of military rule which endured from 1962 until 2011. Former leader Suu Kyi has urged people to protest, and many have expressed their disapproval of the coup. In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, people honked their car horns and banged pots and pans, disturbing the silence of the imposed night curfew. Staff at hospitals have walked out, while others are expressing their opposition by wearing ribbons.

A National League for Democracy official told the Associated Press that the party was looking to “settle the problem peacefully”. They may soon find, though, that dealing with authoritarians bears no fruits. After all, it is the operation of democracy, discussion and debate that obliged the military to seize power. The situation may require foreign intervention; otherwise, the people of Myanmar, barely a decade into a new, democratic chapter in their history, might never know freedom again.