Aung San Suu Kyi‘s political party is calling on people in Myanmar to resist the military coup on Monday that saw Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders arrested and military leaders declare emergency control of the government.
The statement on Facebook from the National League for Democracy called the actions of the military unjustified, and said they went against both the constitution and the will of the voters, according to the Associated Press. It warned of a return to “military dictatorship” just five years after Suu Kyi won political leadership of the country from the junta in free elections.
Earlier on Monday, Myanmar’s military, called the Tatmadaw, said it had taken emergency control of the government for one year in part due to the military’s claims of voter fraud in the Nov. 8 election, which it lost badly.
The announcement came hours after Suu Kyi, and other leading figures from the ruling National League for Democracy were detained by the military in coordinated early-morning raids.
“The coup abruptly ends Myanmar’s faulty and fragile push towards democracy over the last decade,” says Lee Morgenbesser, an expert on authoritarian politics in Southeast Asia at the school of government and international relations at Australia’s Griffith University.
Communications, including phones, TV broadcasts and internet in many parts of the country, including the capital, were cut or hindered, according to reports. Internet monitoring group Netblocks, said online connectivity had dipped to 50% normal levels Monday morning, before being partially restored by the afternoon.
Suu Kyi, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship that kept her under house arrest for 15 years. But more recently, she faced international scorn for her response to a violent crackdown by security forces against the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority. U.N. investigators determined that the violent campaign of arson, rape and murder was carried out with genocidal intent. But Suu Kyi has publicly rejected accusations that the military waged a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.
Why did the military overthrow the Myanmar government?
Fears of a military coup have been simmering in the Southeast Asian nation since the military disputed the results of the November election. Suu Kyi’s NLD won in a landslide victory, capturing 396 out of 476 seats, allowing the party to form a government for five more years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just 33 seats. On Jan. 29, the country’s election commission rejected allegations by the military that the election was fraudulent.
Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said last week it may be necessary to revoke the country’s constitution if the laws it layed out were not being followed.
“The constitution is the mother law for all laws. So 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,” he said.
The same day as the election commission ruling, several Western diplomatic missions, including the U.S, issued a statement urging “the military, and all other parties in the country, to adhere to democratic norms.”
“We oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition,” the statement said.
How is the world reacting?
The United States, Australia and others have issued statements expressing concern over the situation.
“The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” said White House spokesperson Jen Psaki in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that the U.S. expresses “grave concern”over the events. “The United States stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development,” he said. “The military must reverse these actions immediately.”
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne also issued a statement on Monday. “We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully,” it said.
“The military’s actions show utter disdain for the democratic elections held in November and the right of Myanmar’s people to choose their own government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the NGO Human Rights Watch. “We are especially concerned for the safety and security of activists and other critics of the military who may have been taken into custody.”
Who is Min Aung Hlaing?
Power has been handed to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, according to the broadcast on the military-owned television station.
Despite the ostensible democratic reforms in the country in recent years, the military commander-in-chief retained powerful influence, including command of the defense, border affairs and home affairs ministries, whose reach is pervasive.
Experts say the coup may have been engineered by the powerful figure for personal reasons.
“This could be being driven by the personal ambitions of Min Aung Hlaing, who was due to retire in six months,” Mark Farmaner, the director of the London-based advocacy group Burma Campaign UK, tells TIME. “He has also used his position to ensure his family have lucrative businesses interests, which he won’t be in apposition to protect after retirement.”
In July 2019, the 64-year-old and three other military leaders were barred from traveling to the U.S. for their roles in the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Further sanctions were placed on the military leaders in December of the same year to freeze any U.S. assets and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
What does the coup mean for Myanmar?
It’s not the first coup in the country’s history; a 1962 coup brought the military to power. After a series of protests known as the 8888 Uprising, another coup in 1988 brought to power the military junta that would rule for the next 22 years.
Myanmar began a series of democratic reforms in 2011 toward what the army called “discipline-flourishing democracy.” An election in 2015. which brought Suu Kyi to power, was deemed its freest general election in 25 years.
Still—the country’s 2008 constitution guaranteed the military 25% of seats in parliament and veto power over constitutional changes.
Farmaner, the director of Burma Campaign UK, says that the coup represents a significant change in strategy for the military, but that it will put them under increased pressure. “It is very hard to see how the military can benefit from this coup,” he says. “They will face protests and renewed international sanctions.”
Morgenbesser, of Griffith University, says that the motivation for the military is to “remake the political status quo” in the wake of the second election that saw military-backed parties routed. “Given efforts by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling government to curb the political power of the military, especially its fixed allotment of seats in parliament, the Tatmadaw acted preemptively today.”
Morgenbesser adds that an international response to the events on Monday may be dampened by the need to balance defending democracy in Myanmar, without lending credibility to Suu Kyi, who he says has “herself has undermined its implementation since 2015.”