Myanmar coup and the civilian government

On 31 January, the Myanmar military took control of the government with a bloodless coup d’etat just hours before the commencement of the new parliament session claiming gross electoral irregularities and inaction of the authority against fraud clams. Immediately after the coup, cutting television signals across the country and phone and internet access in Naypyidaw, the military declared the state of emergency for one year. In the meantime, the coup led to arrests of the state councilor, the president, and many political leaders — elected in the November 2020 elections in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) got around 83 percent votes and captured 396 out of 476 seats in the combined lower and upper houses of the Parliament — and protests at home and abroad.

But an important question remains on whether fraud claims are right. Despite controversies, it convincingly appears that elections were mostly free and fair. Indeed, the military failed to provide proof of electoral fraud claims and say whether irregularities were substantial enough to change electoral outcomes. On the contrary, the state Union Election Commission repeatedly denied fraud claims and several political parties claimed minor electoral irregularities; more importantly, most outside observers believe that the result was about as decisive as it gets. As is mostly believed, electoral irregularities especially cases of fraud voters — more specifically, duplicated names on voting lists — are not sufficient for changing outcomes and Aung San Suu Kyi, rendered as the icon of democracy in Myanmar, received immense supports from voters because of her enormous popularity in the country.

More persuasively, the power struggle between the government and the military and the presidential ambitions of the military chief Min Aung Hlaing seem real causes behind the coup. In fact, the military chief, who is believed to have the intention to maintain power within the military and presidential ambitions, has only a few months of office. As is convincingly criticized, the military wanted winning of more seats of the Union Solidarity and Development Party — a proxy political party of the military — in the elections to form the next government or to exert more influence in the NLD–led government, but devastating electoral results that set the alarm bells ringing in the headquarters of Tatmadaw compelled power enjoying generals to sense the military’s weakening position against the rising popularity of the democratic government and take steps to overthrow it.

Even if there are some minor electoral irregularities, a military regime is not a well-justified option. In fact, the military rule did not bring good for Myanmar in the past; as it appears, it indulged corruption, hindered the development of democratic institutions, made the country economically vulnerable, and kept it separated from the world for a long time. More importantly, the present takeover can bring about detrimental effects on Myanmar in political, economic, and some other terms. Indeed, Myanmar is a nascent democracy, established 10 years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship since the 1960s. The military regime can further hinder its democratic transition, meaning that rule of law, flourishment of civil society and other democratic institutions can be increasingly at risk.

At this critical juncture, an important point is whether the military regime will transfer power to the civilian government sooner. Though possibility remains, there is obviously uncertainty too. In fact, there is no mention of the timeline for the transfer of power, and is a lack of convincing and relevant developments in Myanmar, although the military, which has enormous political experience, has already said for holding another election after the end of the emergency status. By this time, the police filed charges against the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy in Myanmar that has a long history of military rule, and a secret trial is going on against her. Besides, the Military has in the meantime become tougher against the mass protests leading to six deaths.

The Myanmar military, furthermore, has very close ties with neighboring China. Of course, it has already become crystal clear after China’s veto to a recent condemnation move of the UN proposed by the United Kingdom.  It is often criticized that China’s ruling Communist Party tends to favor fellow authoritarian regimes. Even if China may not have any link with the coup, it may support the Military regime because of its economic and geo-strategic interests; as it appears, it invested billions of dollars in Myanmar mines, oil and gas pipelines, and other infrastructure development projects. Supports from China may help the Myanmar military regime withstand international pressure — at least to some extent.

But it is, on the contrary, undeniable that external and internal reactions are enormous. The UN, the EU, the USA, and many other countries strongly reacted to the military take over and detention of elected political leaders including the state councilor, though she is heavily criticized abroad owing to her support to the military against Rohingya persecution. The US administration already imposed sanctions targeting ten individuals including the acting President and three companies, whereas the UN urged collective efforts for ending military regime and the EU agreed to impose sanctions. Besides, scores of elected legislators of Myanmar signed oaths of office and held sessions in their living quarters in a show of defiance and protests that sporadically started immediately after the coup in diverse forms — noise campaigns, red ribbon protests, street demonstrations, etc. — are now strengthened.

Under such circumstances, the transfer of power to the civilian government will depend on what steps the UN and powerful countries including the USA take against the military regime, how the NLD and general people of Myanmar react to the military rule, to what extent China supports the military regime, and what tactics the Myanmar military employs against domestic and international pressure in the coming days. But it is undoubtedly desired that the Myanmar military quickly frees all political prisoners and peacefully transfers state power to the civilian government sooner — with or without another election.

© The Eastern Herald
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Amir Sayem
Studied Masters of Population Sciences from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Writing about issues including social, political, public health, environmental, and international relations. Contributor to The Eastern Herald from Bangladesh.