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Eight months have passed since the coup in Myanmar. What are the internal factors that contribute to the country’s gloomy political scenario? What are the odds that run counter to Burmese democracy? Here, I go back to Myanmar’s turbulent political past to find answers.
After a decade of relative calm, the Tatmadaw, as the Burmese armed forces are called, smuggled power from civilian leaders by staging a disgusting coup in February this year, led by its 65-year-old leader, General Min Aung Hlaing. This was carried out just days before Myanmar’s newly elected parliament was convened and three months after the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the elections held in November 2020 in the country’s second freely contested ballot since 2015.
As the junta has returned to haunt Myanmar’s latest democratic experiment once again, history repeats itself. Even before the coup, the Tatmadaw’s dominance in the administration was very evident, as twenty-five percent of seats in Parliament and key Cabinet portfolios were reserved for the military, according to the Constitution promulgated by the army itself in 2008..
Already seen 1988
Apparently, the Tatmadaw and its aging leader were outraged by the continued and overwhelming popularity that democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi still enjoyed in the weeks following the 2020 election, despite all the allegations that she played the role. second violin of the Tatmadaw. The coup and the repression of democracy that followed set the clock back to 1988.
It was in this year that a large wave of protests erupted against the military which began as a student-led movement in the city of Rangoon (now Yangon), which quickly spread to everything the country. It became known as the “8-8-88 Uprising” or “People’s Power Movement” because the protests peaked on August 8, 1988. Suu Kyi’s NLD party emerged from this movement.
Burma was separated from British India as a separately administered colony eleven years before the country gained independence. The predominantly Buddhist state was free from British rule in 1948 under the leadership of people like U Nu and Aung San in hopes of ushering in parliamentary democracy. Sadly, over the next fourteen years, the country witnessed the very first military coup in its history since independence in 1962, led by General U Ne Win, who ruled the country with an iron fist for the next twenty years. six years.
Lack of political consensus
From its independence in 1948, the Land of the Golden Pagodas has been a nation deeply divided in terms of ethnicity, religion and political loyalty, with a majority of Burmese dominating the upper echelons of power. Myanmar has 135 ethnic groups in total. It comprises the majority of Burmese, who constitute two-thirds of the population, minority groups such as Shan, Karen, Rohingya, Kachin, Mon and other smaller groups. A serious lack of political consensus between the various ethno-religious groups and their respective parties has always been a scourge for Myanmar’s overall stability.
Inter-ethnic tensions and sectarian violence in Myanmar that have lasted for decades have been a historical factor in the rise in popularity of the Tatmadaw among the population, who see themselves as the only force capable of bringing stability to the country, an idea that resonates. with a substantial proportion of the majority of Burmese even today. But, a pro-democracy resistance movement is underway on the other side, the recent excesses of the army having led many of its supporters to switch sides.
When the Tatmadaw was seen as a beacon of stability
The Anti-Fascist League for People’s Freedom (AFPFL) coalition dominated Myanmar’s political scene from 1948 to 1958. Contrary to popular belief today, the military was seen as a beacon of stability in the post-independence period. of the country as many sectarian groups clashed. . In the 1950s, the country also had to contend with dispersed left-wing insurgencies, as well as widespread ethnic conflicts.
As early as 1958, when the affairs of state were slipping away, the civilian government asked the Tatmadaw to intervene as an interim government. The military has remained loyal to the elected government for fourteen years since independence and even facilitated the 1960 general election.
At a time when public support for the military increased dramatically among the population, catalyzed by a corrupt civilian government led by the AFPFL, the Tatmadaw decided to take matters into their own hands by staging a coup in 1962. The junta took over. adopted a new Constitution in 1974, suspending the one previously promulgated in 1947.
Soon the military became a repressive force, and its socialist state policy known as the Burmese Path to Socialism isolated Myanmar from the rest of the world from 1962 to 1988 and devastated the economy. Around the same time, Buddhist ultranationalism perpetrated by fear-mongering monks also flourished under the regime at the cost of intimidation from minority groups.
The dawn of a new era and the return to history
As the people realized their folly to trust the Tatmadaw, the uprising of 1988 occurred. Around the same time, young Suu Kyi returned to her home country after completing her studies abroad. Witnessing the scathing abuse of power by the ruling junta, she rallied her fellow Burmese citizens to the cause of Myanmar’s democratic transition. The uprising can also be seen as a direct consequence of the emergence of the NLD, which contested and won the 1990 elections. But, the military refused to accept the results and prevented a civilian government from exercising power. to be able to.
Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest by the junta the following year. She continued her fight and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She was detained for a total of fifteen years between 1990 and 2010. Elections were held in 2010 and the junta was “supposedly” dissolved. the following year, to reappear in 2021.
According to United Nations estimates, around 230,000 people were displaced in June of this year, due to military action and retaliatory attacks either by civilian rebels or by one armed resistance group or the other. In July of this year, more than a thousand people were reportedly killed by the junta, with thousands of protesters arrested, detained or charged, and many have even disappeared without a trace. Recently, the shadowy resistance movement calling itself Myanmar’s “government of national unity” has gone underground since the February coup and called for a “people’s defensive war” in the country. nationwide against the Tatmadaw.
Regional voices and the path of peace
Myanmar has been a member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) since 1997. But the organization, despite its diplomatic efforts, was unable to prevent the coup and the civil unrest that followed in the country. In fact, the ASEAN negotiations in its capital Jakarta in April and the five-point consensus that emerged from them were apparently set aside by the junta. ASEAN envoys met with army chiefs in June and the organization’s latest proposal for a ceasefire until the end of 2021, presented in late August, was reportedly rejected by the military .
Due to geo-economic and border security considerations, neighboring China and India have good relations with the Tatmadaw. However, broad civilian support is the only way to ensure the lasting legitimacy of the military. And, the best solution to bringing real stability to Myanmar is to agree to a mutually agreed power-sharing agreement between the shadow civilian rulers and the military that would ensure unequivocal internal peace in the country.
Social cohesion continues to be a distant dream for Myanmar and the Burmese people, whose absence continues to be the root of all political ills in the country. The current Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the crisis. Ultimately, the military cannot afford to upset the United Nations and the democracies of the world for a long time, especially the West, with their economic sanctions in place, and the terrible restrictions placed on true democratic aspirations. of the Burmese people will disappear from the calculation again in just a matter of time.