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Burma is Down - What Led to the Military Coup and Seizing of Power?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

General Aung Ming Hliang

Image credits: BBC

The military justified its act of overthrowing the government as the election commission didn’t address its allegations, with two possibilities; either most people refuse to believe that voter fraud constituted the reason behind the military coup or many third-party observers that were present in Myanmar never talked about voter fraud and nobody would have imagined there would be a sudden military coup. Pressure had been building even before January 28th as the military held a press conference addressing the issue of voter fraud.

Throughout the conference, the military was asked if there would be any military coup or not. And the military alleged they weren't sure, which is a typical statement. People believed the military’s statement was implied merely to pressurize the government and that the military had no intention of a coup. The military issued another statement that confirmed the hypothesis. In the statement, the military claimed they would act endowing the constitution.

To understand the actual reason for this military coup, it becomes imperative to dive into the history of Myanmar till 1947. Myanmar, also known earlier as Burma, was under British rule like India. During WWII, Japan occupied Myanmar. A local army struggled against Japan with the cooperation of the allies and increased control over Myanmar again. The leader of the provincial army, recognized as the father of the nation, established a historic agreement in 1947.

It has over 130 ethnicities.70% of the citizens of Myanmar belong to the Bamar ethnicity. And all the pre-eminent political leaders of Myanmar belong to the Bamar ethnicity. The leader of the local army ratified an agreement with the other ethnicities to establish a strong and united nation. He put forward a condition that they would adopt a federal system and non-Bamar ethnicity could govern their internal areas. But before Myanmar could gain formal independence, the father of the nation was assassinated.

Myanmar was a democracy between 1948-1962. But the promise of federalism was never delivered by the Bamar-dominated central government. This led to ethnic insurgencies against the Bamars. Many ethnic groups possessed an army that fought against the central Bamar-dominated army. These insurgencies continue to date. In 1962, the first military coup took place in Myanmar. The military stated the nation was under threat due to the insurgencies and absolute control by it was necessary. This started a military rule in Myanmar which would continue for another 50 years under the rule of three tyrants. After the 1962 coup, the military took control of all private properties, expelled the non-native, and made Myanmar an isolated country.

The county’s exchanges with other nations were cut off. As the coup announced a state of emergency, Myanmar's 10-year journey to democracy appears to be over. Myanmar is run by a general after the military deposed the government led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi in a bizarre stroke of luck as the part of the coup as the army declared a state of emergency, while they've arrested politicians and shut down social media demonstrations has been the largest since the 2008 uprising against the military. This is the Myanmar military scrapping the democratic experiment which resulted in the rivalry between the military and a popular pro-democracy movement led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her NLD party people in Myanmar who were put through almost 50 years of military rule.

Image credits: The Atlantic

The country was closed off to the world and international sanctions hurt: there were recurring protests and violent military crackdowns while Aung Sang Suu Kyi made a name for her as the face of the opposition, she spent a total of 15 years under house arrest. Her efforts won her a Nobel peace prize, then came what people call Myanmar's experiment with democracy. There was a referendum attempted at free elections and foreign investment increased. In 2015, Aung Sang and her NLD party won a landslide victory, and citizens have had 10 years of much higher freedom in terms of information media, social media, communication, CSO and it's difficult to put that back in a bottle which brings us to the coup.

As a consequence of these past actions, the military is resorting to such actions due to its parliamentary elections and the NLD won in another landslide more than 80% of the votes, but the military disputed the results saying there was fraud. The main question is about the proof of the fraud? However, in some of the conflict areas, people couldn't vote, But a true representation of the will of the people can be reflected through the vote of the majority which brings us to how the military got very powerful. It is because that power has been for maintaining control. Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand.

It is such a diverse country and ethnic divisions only got worse under Japanese and British rule and then Burma got its independence. The Burmese national flag was hoisted with all due ceremony. Power was unexpectedly handed to the majority of Burmans a deal that excluded numerous ethnic minorities. In the first 10 to 15 years of independence, there were a series of reasonable rebellions. The military believed it was the only force that could take care of it to hold the country together and make sure the ethnic Berman majority is on top. Accordingly, the military has been in power, but at one point decides to share control and rather create a democracy.

Why Is the military guaranteed 25 of the seats in parliament? Well, it is because in 2008 the military put it in the new constitution. It also kept control of defence interior ministries and key positions in the cabinet, but it wasn't just political control. They got into business too. The military created two huge conglomerates made up of local and foreign companies. The military's economic holdings extend right throughout the economy. In a sense, the military is a government within a government or a government above a government because the military has had that much influence.

Many people saw Aung-Sang Suu Kyi as a puppet or as a campaign of genocide and crimes that include killing children, raping women; using fear to push out more than eight hundred thousand Rohingya into Bangladesh, and yet Suu Kyi defended the military operation. Genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis that will cost her status as an icon of the international community and human rights community. In the present circumstances, Suu Kyi is back in detention.

So, what do the majority of people in Myanmar thinks about what's going on? The opinions of the citizens are divided as some seem to back the military also recognized as the Tatmada and others like Takador a nationalist group see them as a defender of the nation and in particular, a defender of Buddhism. But the fact is Aung San is by far the most popular. The people of Myanmar were given the chance to vote in a free and fair election. Twice, their hero is Aung-San Suu Kyi. The party they want to rule is the NLD and they are protesting.

These have been some of the biggest crowds since 2007, and they're spreading across the country. As a result, the reason why the military staged this coup is that it is closed and secretive. One theory suggested that Minong Lang and others were worried about plans by the new government to deliver the reforms like amending the constitution. The NLD had tried it before. That failed because of the military's 29 holds on parliament, but it's thought to have angered the military.

There is another theory and it is that Minong Lang was acting in his self-interest. The current commander-in-chief is on the verge of retirement, and this could be an urgent move to salvage his political career and likely people shouldn't assume everyone in the military is necessarily happy about this.

We will conduct a multi-party election and will hand over power to the one who wins in that election. In the larger world which powers back the military's decision? Significantly, countries like Russia and China retain a symbiotic relationship with the military and both blocked a U.N. resolution condemning the coup.

Some activists started what they called a civil disobedience movement honking horns, banging pads and giving a three-finger salute but the internet is being periodically shut down and more and more people are being arrested. This is a widening circle of not just the political figures but writers, journalists, artists, social media people, and human rights defenders. To prevent this from happening and to maintain the stronghold of the military in Myanmar, he would have ordered this coup. Whatever the reason is behind the coup, we need to realize it’s different this time around. Because Myanmar’s economic and political expectations are different. The citizens have got used to freeing democracy and a loose economy. They’re cognizant of the interests of the other countries of the world by social media.

Therefore, they won’t accept the coup easily because everyone wants Myanmar to get back on track. However, there is no shortage of friends, no shortage of influences, the international community has to use whatever techniques that it can to try to encourage a return to power-sharing with the civilians. The military has said it would remain in power, but the right mix of incentives and pressure could convince the generals to turn things around and reinstate some form of democracy.

Therefore, it can be concluded, Myanmar has done it before and people in the world can only hope that this graph spiral upwards rather than sloping downwards.


Mihir Bhatt

Guest Writer

B.A. Honours History First-year

SGTB Khalsa College

Life is about experiences and I aim to capture these experiences through my work, I am Mihir Bhatt an aspiring writer, designer, and civil service aspirant from SGTB khalsa college who believes in attaining satisfaction in achieving every trivial milestone.

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