On February 1, 2021, telecommunications were cut, flights grounded, and state television turned off as Myanmar’s military seized power from the country’s democratically re-elected leaders. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, was detained along with many other cabinet members, AP News reports.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has commanded the armed forces since 2011, has been installed as the Commander-in-Chief, taking power just months before his due date for retirement. The military replaced key ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior, and foreign affairs, BBC notes.
The Junta justified its takeover of government by citing Article 417 of the country’s constitution, which allows the military to take over leadership in times of emergencies. According to PBS, this announcement came on the military-owned Myvawaddy TV, where a spokesman stated that COVID-19 and the government’s failure to postpone the state’s November elections were reasons for the emergency.
Ever since national elections were completed last November, the military has accused the civilian government of ‘voter fraud,’ citing claims that voting irregularities in the registry indicated more than 8.6 million people were disenfranchised, Human Right Watch reports. According to the HRW, an additional 1.5 million ethnic minorities were denied access to voting during the elections.
Human Right Watch released a report on October 28, 2020, stating that Myanmar’s Union Election Commission had taken what it referred to as “critical decisions without meaningful transparency that would affect the November 8, 2020 elections in many ethnic minority areas.” Voting was been canceled in 15 townships and parts of 42 others without prior “meaningful consultation with political parties, candidates or local organizations.”
Despite this, Aung Sun Suu Kyi was announced as the winner of the November elections by the Union Election Commission – Suu Kyi’s party won 396 out of 476 overall seats in the lower and upper houses of Parliament. The Commission has confirmed these results and, up until last week, reaffirmed there was no electoral fraud involved in the elections and that the military “had no evidence to support their claims,” per PBS.
International condemnation continues to pour in against the Myanmar military. The United States was one of the first countries to respond to events in Myanmar, officially calling it a coup d’etat, with the Department of State confirming that the military takeover met all the criteria to be labeled as such. According to State Department spokesman Ned Price, the United States would “work closely with our partners throughout the region and the world to support respect for democracy and the rule of law in Burma [Myanmar], as well as to promote accountability for those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic trajectory.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called on the Biden administration to impose “significant costs” on the military. According to Newsweek, McConnell stated, “We already have sanctions in place against key military officials,” and that, “Congress has already given the executive branch the authorities it needs to swiftly apply even more sanctions to the military and its infiltration into Burma’s economy.”
On Thursday, the members of the United Nations Security Council issued a joint statement vehemently condemning the military coup in Myanmar and called for the immediate release of all those detained by the Myanmar military. Among other issue areas highlighted, the Security Council emphasized the “the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
In a twist of events two days after the coup, Myanmar authorities charged Suu Kyi with illegally importing and possessing six walkie-talkies, ‘a move that gives the generals who overthrew her legal grounds to detain her for two weeks,’ AP News reports
In sticking to its policy of non-interference, The Association of Southeast Asian state released a statement through its chairman, Mai Tien Dung, noting that “the political stability in ASEAN Member States is essential to achieving a peaceful, stable and prosperous ASEAN Community. We encourage the pursuance of dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”
This is the second time Nobel Prize Winner Suu Kyi will be detained under house arrest by the Myanmar military. The coup, in addition to the Rohingya crisis, further compounds the challenges the Southeast Asian state’s democracy continues to face.