By Jai Kumar Verma
General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of powerful Myanmar army which is also known as Tatmadaw staged a coup on February 1. The army took control of Myanmar, civilian leadership including Aung San Suu Kyi, president Win Myint, all chief ministers of ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) were taken into custody at gun point. Party’s Central Executive Committee Members, legislators and regional Cabinet members were also detained.</str
The army declared emergency for a year after overthrowing the democratically elected government. The civilian government was toppled hours before start of the session of newly elected government. The NLD won 396 seats out of 476 seats in November 2020 elections while army backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won just 33 seats and it created the tension between military and the civilian government. The performance of USDP deteriorated while NLD did better than 2015 elections. The army became suspicious because of rising popularity of NLD especially of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The army ousted the civilian government on February 1 so that the newly elected parliament does not start its functions. Few hours after the coup, government-controlled television broadcast that the power is transferred to Commander in Chief, Min Aung Hlaing and Myint Swe will be the president of the country. Myint Swe is a former general and was appointed as Vice President by the army in the previous government.
The relations between military and civilian government become tense as the Myanmar military was uncomfortable because its proxy party USDP won very few seats while NLD got landslide victory in November 2020 elections. It was the reason that both USDP and military were alleging that there was massive fraud in the elections. Nevertheless, Myanmar election commission made it clear that the elections were free and fair and there was no evidence that the elections were rigged.
Both military and USDP were demanding that there should be thorough investigation of mass voting fraud. USDP members submitted several petitions mentioning about colossal discrepancies in voters list before election commission as well as Supreme Court. The petitioners also claimed that voters list was prepared during Coronavirus pandemic hence it has several inconsistencies as at that time election commission workers could not visit all the places. Secondly there were law and order problems at few areas and the voting lists of those areas were also not correct.
The United Nations and the European Union mentioned that the military must respect the verdict of the November elections. Nonetheless the army made it clear that the election results were unacceptable because of massive fraud.
The 2008 Constitution gives enormous powers to the military as it guarantees 25 per cent seats in Parliament and also gives powerful ministries including home, defence, and border affairs to the military. The 2008 Constitution which was prepared during Junta rule permits the military to take power during emergency to stop the disintegration of the country. In fact, the Constitution gives power to the army to take over on flimsy grounds. The Constitution was framed in such a way that it is exceedingly difficult for the civilian government to amend the Constitution because the amendment in it requires 75 per cent votes in Parliament while 25 per cent seats are controlled by the military.
The international community criticised the military coup. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a statement same day mentioning that “We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely.” Jen Psaki, press secretary of White House, stated that “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”
US President Joe Biden in a separate statement mentioned that the military takeover in Myanmar was a direct assault on transition of democracy. The spokesman of United Nations Secretary General while condemning the military coup in Myanmar mentioned that it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.” The military takeover was condemned by several other world leaders too.
China has high stakes in Myanmar as it has heavily invested in the country. Few analysts claim that China is supporting the army as the young army and civilian officers want to reduce Myanmar’s dependence on China. At present most of the weaponry of Myanmar is supplied by China. The young officers want to divert the procurement so that the country’s dependence on China is reduced. These officers want to procure arms and ammunition from India too.
Myanmar watchers also claim that the 64-year-old general was involved in corruption cases and in 2016 and 2017 there was crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and there were serious allegations of murder, rape, looting by the army. The UN Human Rights Council mentioned that as there were serious allegations on Myanmar army including Commander in Chief General Min Aung Hlaing hence there should be investigation and general should be prosecuted for genocide. General Min Aung Hlaing will complete 65 years in July and then he would be retired, as the chances of extension by NLD government were remote, hence he overthrew the government so that he can continue in power and he cannot be prosecuted.
Aung San Suu Kyi is extremely popular in the country and hundreds of thousands of her followers criticised the military takeover on the social media. However, there was no major violence in the country and the army blocked roads, and the internet and a message appeared that “server not found,” international and domestic TV channels went off air and banks were closed. 24 ministers and their deputies were removed and 11 ministers including health, interior, foreign affairs and finance were appointed. Curfew was also imposed for some time.
The 75 years old pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi was kept in detention for over 15 years between 1989 and 2010 and was given Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The army is afraid of her rising popularity as she was achieving a godlike status among the masses. It is believed that she had large following in army also and several army persons and their family members have voted in her favour otherwise NLD would have not won with such a huge margin. In view of the extensive international support and popularity of Suu Kyi, the military have to restore the democracy in the country.
It appears that General Min Aung Hlaing will utilise one year time in strengthening the military supported USDP. The military will also try to malign NLD and its leadership including Suu Kyi. Although Suu Kyi supported the army internationally when it perpetrated atrocities on minority Rohingya Muslims, but the army lost patience as the popularity of Suu Kyi was increasing. As Suu Kyi is a strong-willed person she will not cooperate with the army and army will have to restore the democracy. Hence army’s overthrowing of the civilian government may prove to be a reckless move under which the prestige of the nation is lowered without any gain.
-The writer is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of USI and IDSA. The views in the article are solely of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda