In the early morning, on the first of February 2021, the Tatmadaw, officially known as the Burmese Military, launched a military coup, taking over the democratically elected government of Myanmar. The army general Min Aung Hlaing accused the Aung San Suu Kyi government or the NLD party (National League for Democracy) of voter fraud. The military stated that there are about 8.6 million irregularities in the voter list in at least 314 towns, allowing voters to cast multiple ballots. Due to this, the military launched a one-year state of emergency where the military general is in charge. Gathering of more than five people, social media, and the internet, in general, is banned. Along with those measures, there is also the house arrest and replacement of many political leaders. The military removed twenty-four elected ministers and deputies, replacing them with eleven lieutenants and those that are loyal to Hlaing. The most notable arrest was of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD. Due to the six walkie-talkies that were found in her house, she was charged with “illegally importing communication equipment”. This is another continuation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s long history of house arrests due to opposition against military control over the government. Unsurprisingly, this sparked mass protest and overall civil disobedience, due to the people’s fear of another military dictatorship. There are estimated to be around 750+ individuals who have died from being shot with live rounds in the 2021 Myanmar protest.
The History & Origin of The Burmese Fear
After 124 years under British rule from 1824 to1948, Myanmar, more commonly known at that time as Burma, gained its independence as The Union of Burma. However, the new union was unstable. Different ethnic groups demanded more autonomy. That caused the union to fall under a civil war that continues today, especially the Karen Conflict from 1949 to the present day. In 1958, due to desperate attempts of the government officials to squash the conflict through diplomacy, General Ne Win was selected by the government to serve as the prime minister. Under his terms, things were relatively peaceful. Two years later, on February 6, 1960, a democratic election was held and the former prime minister U Nu won, winning 57.2% of the total votes. Unfortunately, his term ended just two years later on March 2, 1962, when General Ne Win led a military coup and retook control of the central government. He established a socialist government, with council and parliament that was almost filled with his associates from the military. The Burmese 1947 constitution was erased under his rule, free elections were closed, freedom of the press was non-existent, and any political opposition was met with a crackdown or imprisonment. In simplest terms, from 1962 to 1974 the country was under a military junta (dictatorship). They established The Way to Socialism in April 1962, which created a government that was based on isolationism, totalitarianism, superstition, xenophobia, and sinophobia. These ideals and style of government lead the country to an economic and humanitarian crisis, where almost everyone was in poverty, common food shortages, and corruption everywhere in the government.
Fortunately, on the 8th of August, 1988, driven by economic depression and overall poor quality of life, pro-democracy college students organized massive protests on the streets of Rangoon, or Yangon, the capital of Burma. This led to the step-down of general Ne Win as prime minister on the 23rd of July, 1974. However, this wasn’t a sign of progress; his resignation was mostly due to his associate pressuring him. The Burma Socialist Programme Party, or BSPP, a military regime that he had built was still in power. After Ne Win resigned, Sein Lwin took over the role of chairman and ordered the troops to perform a brutal crackdown on protesters. Soldiers were commanded to fire on unarmed civilians, leading to the death of about 3,000 people and many more injured. This earned Sein Lwin the notorious nickname “Butcher of Rangoon”. Along with that, the government decided to sentence Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest to limit her authority in September 1988. She was a rising influential voice against the government and the leader of the NLD. 
However, people continued to put pressure through massive protesting. In 1990, the junta government finally agreed to have an election. On the 23rd of May, 1990, a general election was held. The result was that the NLD party won the majority with 59.8% of the registered voters. Nonetheless, the junta government deemed the win as illegitimate and held on to power for the next two decades.
Entering the 2000s, the junta government had to deal with increasing domestic and international pressure to respect human rights, and deliver on its promise of a democratically elected government that was rejected in 1990. In 2008, the junta government once again promised a free and open election in the future. This time was due to the financial crisis that Burma was facing. International trade and overall access to the global economy was shut off due to increasingly tight US sanctions that began in 1988, and international organizations (WTO, EU, etc) refusing to work with the Myanmar government. On the 7th of November, 2010, the government finally decided on an election, however, this one wasn’t as democratic as people thought. Before the launching of the election, on the 9th of April, 2008, a new Burmese constitution was established, this one allows the military to have a 25% of the available seat in parliament, allowing them to have the power to veto any laws that don’t benefit them. In addition, the laws that prevent any future president of Myanmar from having a spouse or children that had nationality outside of the country were speculated to be aimed at Suu Kyi since her husband and children both had UK nationality. At first, the constitution blocked Suu Kyi from participating in the election, but international pressure forced the junta government to allow her as a candidate, or else they wouldn’t accept the result of the election. So, they freed her from her house arrest, allowing her to participate in the government. However, after they freed her and other political prisoners, they established new rules for participants in the election in March 2010. The rules stated that any candidate that is currently serving under any form of arrest is banned from joining a political party, essentially blocking them from becoming a candidate. Unfortunately, on the 11th of August that same year, the junta charged Suu Kyi under house arrest again due to a “trespassing incident”. The incident involved a US citizen swimming in a residential pool near a Suu Kyi resident, which was charged as an “illegal visit to a restricted area”. In the end, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party boycotted the election because it was rigged. was won by a pro-military party, called Union Solidarity and Development Party Their leader is Thein Sein, an ex-military general. The USDP itself was established just 5 months before the election on the 8th of June, 2010, supported and established by the military.
Next, the international sanctions on Myanmar continued, since the newly established government still follows a model of dictatorship and the military general is still in power. So in 2015, they held an election again, this time allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to participate, and on November 8, 2015, Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide. The NLD had gained 57% (lower house) and 60.3% (upper house) of the votes, winning the party 135/224 in the lower house of representative and 255/440 seats in the upper house. With that is Aung San Suu Kyi the title of president. However, the 2008 constitution prevented her from gaining the presidency, so she created a title for herself, called State Counselor. The title holds the same power as a prime minister, however, due to the new constitution aspect of immigration/emigration, foreign diplomacy, and access to the military is still under the army’s general control.
After gaining power, Aung San Suu Kyi pushes for a new constitution that will eliminate the military role in the government, by lowering the percentage of seats that are needed to pass laws and constitution down to 75%, effectively eliminating the 25% veto vote. Also, the new constitution would allow elected officials to have access to other executive branches such as defense, foreign affairs, and others that are held by the military. Non-surprisingly this new constitution is blocked by the military.
Then the 2020 election started. On the 8th of November, 2020, this time the party had an increase of 3 seats in both the lower house and the upper house. This might be insignificant, however, in comparison, the pro-military side (the USDP) and the 25% reserved seat for the military only add up to 63 seats in the lower house and 136 in the upper house. They are pale in comparison to the increasingly majority NLD member, 138 seats in the upper house and 258 seats in the upper house. This result solidifies the NLD dominance in both government branches, threatening the military importance in the political process, and grips the country as a whole.
The Core Reason Of The Coup
Fearing for his party and the military government losing power, the military general Min Aung Hlaing and his associates staged a military coup on the 1st of February, 2021. Stating that they had found evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election. However, after an intensified investigation into the election, the election commission had stated that there isn’t any significant amount of voter fraud or accuracy, those that had been found are mild. Even if they subtracted those votes from the original result it wouldn’t sway the result to the USDP side. Despite that, the military still announced a state of emergency and locked up elected government officials, replacing them with military officials.
This action could be easily explained, general Hlaing and his associates are consider “international criminals” due to their actions and command in the brutal campaign on the cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya people. Around 24,000 people were massacred and around 740,000 others fled to Bangladesh. If the generals don’t hold onto power, they might face international persecution, life imprisonment, and maybe even death sentence.
Why Should We Care:
In my perspective, I think that we need to know what is going around the world right now, especially what is going on in Myanmar. Before the military took over, they were one of the most prosperous countries in the region, but now they are the poorest, even behind Cambodia. The people are under tight state control, and the economy is suffering, with many under poverty. Only until Aung San Suu Kyi party came in, opened up the country, and led it toward a more democratic model, then the country was finally saved. But now, everything seems to be turning back as before. Living here in America, people usually take for granted the democracy model that was established here, and we must know that democracy is a very delicate system, even one wrong step, and the whole system is broken down. This was especially true in the 2021 Storming of the Capital by Trump supporters. While in there they threaten politicians with hanging their heads, etc. If these radical supporters did succeed, the entirety of America would fall into chaos. The radical left would bring it on the street and fight with the radical right, and the military would have to step in. At that stage there wouldn’t be a president, the government would be under a lockdown, and the military general would have to come up as the new leader to stabilize the country. If that had happened, then who knows what could happen next. A new junta government in America, wouldn’t sound impossible anymore at that point.
- Death Toll Rises As Protests In Myanmar Continue – npr.com
- 2020 Myanmar general election
- 2015 Myanmar general election
- 2010 Myanmar general election
- Myanmar Coup Explained: Protests, Military, Min Aung Hlaing & the Latest News
- What’s happening in Myanmar?| Start Here
- Myanmar: A history of military rule
- Myanmar election commission rejects military’s fraud claims
- Union Solidarity and Development Party
- Myanmar Military Coup Explained | Why did it happen | Who is going to benefit?
- 1990 Myanmar general election
- Factbox: Sanctions imposed on Myanmar