Dr Makhan Saikia
The February 1 coup has once again brought Myanmar (earlier Burma) back to the military rule. The military also known as the Tatmadaw (in Burmese language), is known for its strong patriotic flavour and sense of stability in the country. The Tatmadaw has taken full advantage of its traditional identity and seized power from the country’s democratically elected Government led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Just a day before the new Parliament was to begin, the Generals ordered for the house arrest of the State Counselor Suu Kyi, President Myint Swe and the rest of the Cabinet Ministers of her Government. This has brought rude shock to the international community and especially to millions of Burmese people who were relieved from five decades of junta rule only in 2011.
·The National Parliament of the Republic of the Myanmar is known as the Assembly of the Union. It is a bicameral legislature which is called as Pyidaungsu Hluttaw in Burmese language and was established under the new Constitution brought by the junta in the year 2008. It consists of two houses, namely Amyotha Hluttaw, the House of Nationalities (Upper House) which has 224 members and the Pyithu Hluttaw, the House of Representatives (Lower House) has 440 members. Thus, the Parliament has in total 640 MPs. Interestingly, in the last Parliamentary election held in November 2020, the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Suu Kyi won more than 350 seats in the Lower House. And the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a party led by former generals had just won 33 seats. Indeed, this landslide victory of the NLD has literally threatened the very existence of the military in the power corridors of the most impoverished country in South-East Asia.
The primary reason for military rule is that the November 2020 Parliamentary election was won by the NLD through fraudulent means. Immediately after the declaration of the results, the military has been calling on the Suu Kyi Government and the country’s national election commission, known as the Union Election Commission, to review the election outcome. The generals say that it has found nearly 8.6 million irregularities in the voter lists of 314 townships around the country. To them, this might have led to the casting of multiple ballots by the voters in these areas. Also, the Tatmadaw and its USDP claimed that massive voting malpractices took place during this election. However, the Election Commission denies such allegations of voting fraud in the election.
Till the last week of January this year, the military was only highlighting the irregularities in the election. In fact, a military spokesperson clearly denied any chance of a coup. To him, the intention of the military is to highlight the gaps in the last election as per the rules set by the Constitution and laws prevailing in the country. However, the chief of military Min Aung Hlaing warned that the constitution could be revoked if the laws are not being properly enforced. He said very clearly: ‘….we all need to abide by the Constitution. If one does not follow the law, such law must be revoked. If it is the Constitution, it is necessary to revoke the Constitution’. This was a clear indication from the Army to take over the reins from Suu Kyi. She should have been very cautious in handling the generals as they were waiting for a power grab for a long time.
The current power grab and torture on non-violent demonstrators are pathetic. It reflects the Army’s age-old tactic to usurp powers from the civilian governments across the world. Its reminiscent of one that took place in the country in the 1980s. People in general feel that the worst is just going to come. A shudder of fear is spreading fast over the country as many of the older generations know very well the tactics of the generals in power. By now, severe military crackdown has taken the lives of more than fifty civilians those who are constantly protesting against military rule over the country.
Meanwhile, the world leaders including the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres have condemned the bloody crackdown by Myanmar security forces against the peaceful anti-coup demonstrators across the country. The Secretary General urged the international community to come together and send a clear signal to the military that it must respect the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed through the election and stop the repression.Josep Borrell, the European Union’s diplomatic chief warned that ‘The military authorities must immediately stop the use of force against civilians and allow the population to express their right to freedom of expression and assembly’. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned what he described as the ‘Burmese Security Forces’ abhorrent violence against the people of Burma’. Apart from sanctions coming from the Western nations, Britain has called for a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis in Myanmar.
Nonetheless, a climate of fear has descended over entire Myanmar.The current action of the Generals would soon push Myanmar into the rank of a ‘pariah state’. As per the declarations made by the military, the current emergency over the country would continue for a year. The military says it would conduct a free and fair election once the state of emergency is over. Gen Hlaing, in his first public appearance after the coup tried to justify the coup. He commented that the country’s military is on the side of the people and would form ‘a true and disciplined democracy’.
What waits for Myanmar is clear-a long and uncertain spell of military rule. UN and other international institutions will continue condemning as a part of its regular ritual. The Generals have experienced enough of the sanctions in the past, no matter how, when and from whom they come. Its all-weather friend, China has so far maintained a guarded approach towards the coup d’etat. Certainly, Beijing would back Hlaing regime in the name of stability. Only the commoners would face the heat of the bullets as they go on encountering the military. Hope the Generals understand the worth of the people’s will.