The military has seized control of Myanmar, overthrowing its democratically elected government and detaining political leaders.

Led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the military alleges that the National League for Democracy (N.L.D.) committed voter fraud in last November’s election. The N.L. D., headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is the country’s leading civilian party. It won 83 percent of Parliament seats last November. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just 33 out of 476 Parliament seats.

The coup returns Myanmar to full military control, which it was under from 1962 to 2011. In 2011, the military introduced a series of reforms that ushered Myanmar into a short-lived period of quasi-democracy.

Background

Source: Global News/YouTube

This week Parliament had planned to hold its first session since the election and to confirm the new government. Instead, the military declared a national emergency, citing the alleged voter fraud. It detained N.L.D. and civilian leaders, including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, cabinet ministers, opposition leaders, writers, and activists. The press has not confirmed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s location, but a spokesperson for her party said she is being held at her official residence.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is an icon of democracy in Myanmar. The daughter of independence hero General Aung San, spent 15 years under house arrest prior to the democratic reforms of 2011. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

However, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tarnished her reputation when she defended the Myanmar military for its role in the genocide of the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group. Many believed her actions were strategic; by winning the military’s favor, she hoped to ease the country’s democratic transition. But as reporters for the New York Times write, “her detention on Monday appeared to prove the lie in the military’s commitment to democracy.”

The possibility of a coup emerged over the past few days. The military took its allegations of voter fraud to the Supreme Court and threatened to “take action” while surrounding the houses of Parliament with soldiers. The newly installed government canceled domestic and international flights. It also suspended most television broadcasts and internet access in major cities. The stock market and commercial banks also closed.

A Powerful Military

A stipulation in Myanmar’s constitution allows the military to declare a national emergency, as it has now done. A news presenter on the military-owned Myawaddy TV network said the state of emergency would remain in place for one year.

CNN reports that, despite the democratic reforms of 2011, the military remained politically powerful. It played a key role in writing the country’s 2008 constitution, which allocates 25% of legislative seats to the military. The constitution also grants the military control of important ministries and veto power on constitutional issues. This raises questions about military leaders’ motivations in seizing power.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, told CNN that the coup is a “real mystery.” He said: “They [the military] wrote the constitution that they just overthrew. It gives them enormous power, economic power, political power. So how and why they overturn their own constitution is incredible.”

One factor may be the self-interest of General Min Aung Hlaing, who was due to age out of his role as army chief this summer. The coup extends his power, allowing him to maintain his economic holdings in the country and avoid facing international court charges. He is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes of genocide against the Rohingya. The general also oversaw ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Shan and the Kokang, two other ethnic minority groups.

World Leaders React

Several World leaders have condemned the coup. President Biden threatened to reintroduce sanctions against Myanmar. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Great Britain took to social media, tweeting, “the vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”

China, which shares a border with Myanmar, has remained neutral. China is one of Myanmar’s largest investors and has maintained friendly relations with both Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the Myanmar military.

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