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Sun 1 August 2021

Tommy Walker speaks to a detained politician anticipating a backlash against the Myanmar military’s actions

Myanmar is bracing itself for an uprising amid this week’s military coup, according to a detained Member of Parliament from the National League of Democracy Party (NLD).

Tensions increased in the country on Wednesday after leaders from the ruling National League for Democracy Party (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, were both charged by police. They will be remanded in custody until 15 February.

The detained MP, who wished to stay anonymous because of censorship laws, spoke from Myanmar’s capital, Nay Pyi Taw. They told Byline Times that a response from NLD leaders and activists is imminent.

“All pro-democracy leaders and activists are detained, and second [tier] Democracy leaders are evading and preparing… Because fighting [the] battle is a multi-pronged approach, there may be street battles and uprising,” the MP said.

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“Aung San Suu Kyi already ordered her statement to the public before her arrest, which included to respond [in] relevant ways. Gradually, there may be an uprising. There may also be a crackdown. The main [thing is] the people do not accept the military coup at all.”

Small protests have already taken place within Myanmar, with video footage posted on social media showing residents banging tins and cans in their homes. Activists have also changed their social media display pictures to the colour red, in support of the detained leaders.

After the NLD leaders were detained, following the coup on 31 January, the military has quickly appointed 11 new ministers and has since held its first cabinet meeting.


Myanmar: An Abridged History

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by armed forces from 1962 until 2011 when democratic reforms led by Aung San Suu Kyi ended military governance. In 2015, her NLD party won the country’s first open, democratic election.

In Myanmar’s General Election in November 2020, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the military-backed opposition, lost heavily to Suu Kyi’s NLD. The opposition contested the result, claiming that there was widespread electoral fraud.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has maintained a strong influence in Myanmar in recent years – largely due to a law embedded in its Constitution, created in 2008, guaranteeing that it holds a quarter of all seats in the country’s Parliament.

On 31 January, the day that the NLD’s second term should have begun, the military made its move – declaring a one-year-long state of emergency with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing taking power.

The now-detained former leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, spent nearly 15 years in military detention between 1989 and 2010, winning the Nobel Peace Price in 1991.

Once seen as a democracy icon internationally, her global reputation fell following the Rohingya genocide in the country from 2016 onwards, when military crackdowns forced hundreds of thousands of people from the ethnic group to flee abroad.


The Reaction From Myanmar and Beyond

Following events in Myanmar, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”

Yet, while world leaders have joined the UK in condemning the coup, the UN Security Council was prevented from releasing a joint statement – due to the opposition of Russia and China. This came after Chinese state media played down the events, claiming that Myanmar’s political overhaul was merely a “cabinet reshuffle”.

Anders Corr, publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, told Byline Times that he believes “it is likely that China knew about and sanctioned the coup in advance”.

“If the coup is only met with words and mild economic sanctions by Europe, the US and the UK, it will be a major blow to democracy – as it will prove the weakness of the major democratic powers to reverse illiberal coups in Asia,” he added.

A political analyst from Myanmar, who chose to stay anonymous, says that the NLD Government’s failure to respond to the military’s accusations of electoral fraud provoked the coup. “The military followed some legal steps, but the Government neglected all options and finally the military staged a coup,” they said.

However, the analyst believes that the general population “hates” the military, due to its history of corruption, and that people voted for the NLD as a way to end military rule: “The new coup will make many young generations lose hope in the nation’s future. It may be difficult for the military to erase these vicious memories in a short time.”

Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, a researcher in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, told Byline Times that the coup equated to the military flexing its muscles: “This tells us the Tatmadaw is showing its power to the people. The [2008] Constitution was drafted by Tatmadaw, and it can take the power back from the Government.”

But Dr Jenny Hedstrom, an expert in Myanmar’s conflict affairs, believes that it may have little effect in some states: “From a large, structural perspective, you can see that for many people, everyday life hasn’t changed that much. The coup isn’t so much a disruption, but simply something expected and in line with past experiences.”

Whether this remains the case, depends on whether and to what extent the conflict escalates in the coming days and weeks.

Translation by Zin Thu Aung

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