Naypyitaw, Feb 1: Myanmar’s military staged a coup on Monday and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi a sharp reversal of the significant, if uneven, progress toward democracy the Southeast Asian nation has made following five decades of military rule.

An announcement on military-owned Myawaddy TV said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. It said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections  in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The takeover came the morning the country’s new parliamentary session was to begin and follows days of concern that a coup was coming. The military maintains its actions are legally justified  citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency  though Suu Kyi’s party and international observers have termed it a coup.

It was a dramatic back slide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It was also a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who was under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her National League for Democracy won elections in 2015.

For some, Monday’s takeover was seen as confirmation that the military holds ultimate power despite the veneer of democracy. New York-based Human Rights Watch has previously described the clause in the constitution that the military invoked as a coup mechanism in waiting.

The embarrassingly poor showing of the military-backed party in the November vote may have been the spark. The first signs that the military was planning to seize power were reports that Suu Kyi and Win Myint, the country’s president, had been detained before dawn.

Television signals were cut across the country, as was phone and internet access in capital Naypyitaw, while passenger flights were grounded. Phone service in other parts of the country was also reported down, though people were still able to use the internet in many areas.

As word of the military’s actions spread in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, there was a growing sense of unease among residents who earlier in the day had packed into tea shops for breakfast and went about their morning shopping.

By midday, people were removing the bright red flags of Suu Kyi’s party that once adorned their homes and businesses. Lines formed at ATMs as people waited to take out cash, efforts that were being complicated by internet disruptions. Workers at some businesses decided to go home.

The military’s actions also received international condemnation and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders. – AP