Clashes between the people and the Military, allegations of genocide. The picture is growing ever more fragmented.
Wide-spread civil disobedience and unrest has spread across Myanmar over the last few days following a coup conducted by the country’s military on February 1st, 2021. The situation is febrile both domestically and internationally, what will the next chapter look like?
On Monday, protest groups started a general strike and took to the streets to peacefully oppose the military’s takeover of the democratically elected government. Hundreds of thousands of people turned up across the country in support of their arrested de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). It has led to many institutions such as banks being unable to function properly.
It follows the coup on February the 1st which the military (Tatmadaw) said was triggered by election fraud. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s party achieved a landslide majority in the country’s parliament, winning 397 out of 476 seats (25% of the total seats are reserved for the unelected military). The electoral commission has found no evidence for irregularities.
Aung San Syu Kyi has been campaigning for democracy in the country for decades. For many years she was held under house arrest by the military junta. In 2015, openly contested elections were allowed by the armed forces, thereby allowing the Nobel Peace Prize winner to take the reigns (although she couldn’t be President as she has children who are foreign citizens). The military didn’t disappear either, still holding a significant role in governance, maintaining control of defence, home, and border affairs.
The international response to the coup d’état has been mixed with Western countries such as the UK and the United States condemning the anti-democratic move and the subsequent violent crackdown which has led to the death of three protestors. However, regional powers such as China, Indonesia, Thailand, and other members of ASEAN have been reluctant to get involved.
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By Matthew Parkes: pOLITICAL COLUMNIST
China blocked a UN security council statement condemning the coup but China’s ambassador to Myanmar said that the current situation is not what ‘China wants to see,’ and denied providing the Junta with weapons.
Indonesia has been trying to lead a regional response at the ASEAN and the country’s foreign minister met with Thailand and a top military junta diplomat in Bangkok on Monday. This prompted responses by activists in Myanmar, who protested outside of the countries’ embassies on Wednesday. They believe that foreign leaders talking with the military leadership will provide the regime with undeserved legitimacy.
The future of this episode will likely be determined by the regional response. The United States has led a series of targeted economic sanctions against key military officials but this is unlikely to achieve anything substantial if regional powers back the coup’s leaders.
China has significant investments in Myanmar and the country provides a convenient route to a South-Western coastal port for the superpower. Anti-Chinese sentiment from the pro-democracy protestors has likely concerned the CCP. Moreover, the country had maintained a good relationship with Aung San Syu Kyi when she was in power, whereas the military establishment were hesitant about getting too close to the Chinese, primarily over fears they would lose too much sovereignty. Therefore, China is likely biding its time to see how the situation develops.
Support for Aung San Syu Kyi in the West might also have dwindled following her defence of the military after they drove the Rohingya Muslims out of the country and killed thousands in the process. If she is to miraculously take back control it will unlikely be received with too much fanfare by Western leaders.
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