By Ethan Wojciechowski
International News Writer
On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar Army’s TV station declared that power had been handed over from Aung San Suu Kyi to commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing. Later however, it was revealed that Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy, NLD, were in fact arrested in multiple military raids. For the first time since 1962, the Myanmar military has carried out a coup d’état against a civilian government.
However, the military coup against the leadership of the majority NLD government does not come as a surprise. The military party, USDP, performed poorly in last November’s election especially when compared to the NLD. Moreover, the relationship between the nation’s military and the NLD, and Suu Kyi in particular, has always been one of serious contention.
Since gaining independence in 1948 from the British empire, Myanmar had been in constant throws of military juntas. Following a public uprising in 1988, commonly referred to as the 8888 uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence as a national leader and advocate for democracy. Over the following 21-year period she spent 15 in house arrest due to her rejection of the military rule. In 1990 she received a Nobel Peace Prize thanks to her nonviolent protests that were heavily inspired by Mahatma Gandhi of neighboring India. In 2012 Suu Kyi was elected to parliament and assumed the role of leader of the opposition, and in 2015 her party won the majority.
While for many Suu Kyi was a leader and spokesperson for peace and democracy, she has spent her recent years in a more negative spotlight internationally. Since 2015 there have been multiple reported attacks against Rohingya Muslims, a persecution which is widely held to be a genocide. Many have cited Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as unbecoming of someone who is a representative for peace. Some have come to her defense, highlighting the enormous power the military has suggesting that she may not have had the power to interfere. Even in the at-least nominally democratic government.
That being said, inside Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s party remains highly popular. In the recent 2020 elections her party, the NLD, won a resounding 61.6% of the seats in Myanmar’s upper house and 58.6% in its lower house. In addition to the NLD’s electoral success, many are upset with the military’s coup even though the streets have remained calm and relatively quiet. The people’s somewhat docile response may be due to a curfew enforced by the military, backed up by its violent history.
Many abroad also condemned the actions of the military. UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented that the military performed a, “serious blow to democratic reforms.” US President Joe Biden responded to the recent events stating, “force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also chimed in with a tweet that read, “I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected, and civilian leaders released.” The crisis is a somewhat of a test for the nascent Biden administration which wrestled with the extent to which it would respond. In his recent remarks Biden explained he had taken executive action to impose sanctions on the military leaders. It remains to be seen to what extent the military junta has damaged Myanmar’s international relations, as the coup may serve to seriously isolate the country from its allies and partners.
Contact Ethan at firstname.lastname@example.org