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Why Did a Coup Happen in Myanmar?

4-MINUTE READ

Questions answered in this post:

  1. What happened in Myanmar?
  2. Why did the Myanmar military overthrow the democratic government?
  3. What do the military, the citizens of Myanmar, and the rest of the world think of the coup?
  4. How will the coup affect Burmese society?

1: What happened in Myanmar?

On February 1, 2021, the military of Myanmar staged a coup against the democratically-elected government of Myanmar, previously led by the National League for Democracy party (NLD). 

Military vehicles seen along a street in Mandalay, Myanmar on February 2, 2021, one day after the coup(STR/AFP via Getty Images)

2: Why did the Myanmar military overthrow the democratic government?

For the past few months, military leadership was angry at the result of the November 2020 elections at Myanmar, or Burma. The NLD won 83% of the available seats in Myanmar’s House of Representatives and House of Nationalities, similar to America’s House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. What followed was a series of failed attempts by the military to appeal to the Burmese Supreme Court to overturn the election results on counts of voter fraud.

Aung San Suu Kyi (The Guardian)

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar Parliament was supposed to have its preliminary session to convene and approve the elected seats of both houses of Myanmar Congress. However, the Myanmar military, or the Tatmadaw, stated that it needed to take action against the ‘fraudulent election’ themselves, and soldiers forcefully surrounded the houses of Parliament. They detained many prominent NLD figures, the most notable figure being Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader of the NLD who is immensely popular within Myanmar. 

3: What do the military, the citizens of Myanmar, and the rest of the world think of the coup?

The military: The military stands by their proclamation that the election was fraud. Of course, they have no evidence, but they continue to utilize it as a pretext for taking control of the government. In anticipation of protests mobilized through social media, the Tatmadaw has already drastically restricted Burmese people’s personal freedoms in just two weeks of power – they curtailed freedom of expression by blocking social media, intermittently cut off phone and internet connections, and enacted martial law across major cities. Experts predict they will soon curtail free speech rights as well, if demonstrations and civil disobedience actions persist.

The citizens of Myanmar: Burmese citizens are outraged by the coup, and many have rallied through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to release the detained leaders of the NLD. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens are participating in civil disobedience protests where specifically government workers will stop working and instead join nonviolent demonstrations against the coup. 

Burmese protesters hold up three fingers, a symbol of solidarity against tyrants in the popular movie “The Hunger Games” (Reuters)

The rest of the world: Immediately after the incident, most of the world condemned the military’s actions as a serious threat to democracy. However, a few nations have taken a different stance. 

China: A close neighbor and economic partner to Myanmar, China did not directly undermine the Tatmadaw and instead said that it hoped all parties would “properly handle their differences” and “maintain political and social stability,” thus taking a milder stance in case the military holds onto power in the country. 

United States: In response to the military takeover, the US has already frozen over $1 billion in assets intended for the Burmese military and placed sanctions on the select few Burmese military officials in power. Biden has repeatedly condemned the coup and is ready to pursue further legislation against the illegitimate government. 

4: How will the coup affect Burmese society?

In the near future, it is unclear whether the provisional military government will keep power or not. If this does continue, however, then the citizens of Myanmar will suffer.

All citizens of Myanmar: As stated above, the military government has already taken measures to restrict Burmese citizens’ personal freedoms. If this continues, then democracy will fail in Myanmar and its people will continue to suffer. After two weeks, members of the NLD party are still being detained, currently, and the Tatmadaw is attempting to charge Aung San Suu Kyi with minor offenses to throw her in jail. If they succeed in imprisoning her and other prominent members of her party, then the future for Burmese citizens is bleak. 

Rohingya: The Rohingya are Burmese Muslims who have suffered decades of genocide within Myanmar, causing hundreds of thousands to be displaced from their homes. Although the rest of the world hoped this ethnic cleansing would end once Aung San Suu Kyi gained control of the NLD party, the Rohingya were still suffering at even higher rates than before. 

A Rohingya woman and her child outside a Rohingya camp near western Myanmar in May 2020 (Adam Dean/The New York Times)

But who actually undertook action toward the Rohingya? The military. In fact, the current person in power, Tatmadaw commander Min Aung Hlaing, was the very official who oversaw these killings in the first place. If the military holds power, Rohingya mistreatment will likely exponentiate in the near future.  


TL;DR

  1. On February 1, 2021, the Burmese military, called the Tatmadaw, overthrew the democratically-elected government based on false claims of voter fraud.
  2. The Tatmadaw detained many of their political opponents from the political party that was in control, the National League for Democracy (NLD). All of them are still detained today.
  3. Angered by the military coup, Burmese citizens retaliated with peaceful demonstrations organized through social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. In response, the Tatmadaw has blocked popular social media sites, cut off people’s phone and internet connections, and enacted martial law. 
  4. Most nations around the world condemned the military’s actions and a few have enacted some form of diplomatic sanctions, and the US went as far as to freeze military aid to Myanmar and enact light economic sanctions, with Biden promising more sanctions in the future.
  5. Since most of the population unilaterally seek to rid the government of the Tatmadaw, there is still a possibility that democracy can return to Burma. 

Citations: 

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/human-rights-experts-concern-rohingya-muslims-myanmar-january-31-military-coup/

https://www.nytimes.com/article/2021-myanmar-coup.html?name=styln-myanmar&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=Article&impression_id=&variant=show

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/02/09/to-understand-post-coup-myanmar-look-to-its-history-of-popular-resistance-not-sanctions/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/12/world/asia/myanmar-military-protest.html

https://apnews.com/article/military-coup-myanmar-explained-f3e8a294e63e00509ea2865b6e5c342d

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-usa-sanctions/us-slaps-sanctions-on-myanmar-in-response-to-military-coup-idUSKBN2AB29L

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/1/world-reacts-to-military-coup-in-myanmar

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/02/10/myanmars-military-has-history-using-deceptive-tactics-against-protesters-now-it-has-social-media-too/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/after-myanmar-coup-china-muted-while-u-s-condemns-military-n1256455

Featured Image: Adam Dean/New York Times

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