Recent events reveal the fragility of Myanmar’s democracy and give rise to suspicions of its existence in the first place. On Feb. 1, the military in Myanmar staged a coup, detaining State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government officials after false claims of election fraud by the military, referring to the landslide win by the democratic party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in the November 2020 election.
Since its independence, Myanmar has been jumping back and forth between civilian and military rule. After a coup in 1962, the country experienced over 50 years of military rule. Suu Kyi led the pro-democracy movement in the late 1980s and received the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later. Her party, the NLD, first entered office in 2015 after winning the election. Still, the military holds considerable numbers in Myanmar’s parliament, guaranteed by it’s 2008 constitution drafted by the military.
Deeply-rooted into the history of the country, the military yields a lot of political influence and it is possible that this has already played a factor in Suu Kyi’s decisions as a leader. Many point to her stance in the Rohingya genocide case as an example, during which The Gambia, a small muslim-majority African country, brought charges against Myanmar for the genocide of it’s Rohingya minority as part of it’s campaign to protect the group.
In January 2020, The Gambia accused Suu Kyi of “being silent” over alleged violence against the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar of genocide in a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Suu Kyi had defended the military and addressed the claims of genocide as an “internal armed conflict” against Rohingya militant attacks on government security posts.
Currently, the military has declared a year-long state of emergency with General Min Aung Hlaing acting as commander-in-chief, after which there will be new elections. European leaders have disapproved of this takeover along with the U.S. President Joe Biden. But there has already been international denunciation against General Min Aung Hlaing for his role in the violence against ethnic minorities.
The military’s intent has become obvious – to control the government for as long as they can under one guise and then changing it to another whenever the time is up. The coup is a direct result of this strategy and arose after their concern over Aung San Suu Kyi’s overwhelming support from the people.
Because military officers make up 25% of Myanmar’s parliament, they would only have control of the parliament if another party didn’t have the remaining seats. It is likely that they felt threatened by the possibility of NLD obtaining this majority had the election results been accepted.
Protests across Myanmar have been as peaceful as it gets; the clashing of pots and pans from the people’s homes are seen as an act of civil disobedience. As tensions rise, people have taken the non-violent demonstrations to the streets in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, as riot police use water cannons to barricade streets.
On social media, Burmese people have also been speaking up about these events, sharing information and resources on how to communicate with each other and ways to be safe while protesting. Protests have also spread to Burmese communities in other countries, including the U.S.
According to NetBlocks, Myanmar is now in the midst of a second nation-scale internet blackout. Telecommunications across the country are also unpredictable.
Burmese communities internationally have begun to worry once more as Myanmar travels down old dangerous paths. Many have expressed their fears, not of the fight that will ensue, but the bloodshed history has taught the people to expect.