• Ethan Thomas

The Myanmar Coup d'etat


On February 1, 2021, the military of Myanmar took control of its government in a brutal coup d’etat, declaring a one-year state of emergency. This event has caught the attention of millions around the world as no one is truly sure what are the dangers to come.


Myanmar, a country in southeastern Asia, has always been a nation ruled predominantly by its military and armed forces. Shortly after the nation gained its independence from the British in 1948, general Gen Ne Win, leader of the armed forces, obtained control of the government in a 1962 coup d'etat. Myanmar has been plagued with tons of these events, where a group of individuals violently overthrows an existing government. However, after the coup of 1962, general Gen Ne Win imposed extremely harsh measures to maintain the military’s power - he imprisoned his political rivals, set up a council consisting of only military members, banned all traces of political opposition, and silenced the press. In short, the country of Myanmar was effectively cut off from the outside world, and because the military was in complete control and continued to be for decades longer, Myanmar became one of the poorest countries in the world.


Myanmar and its people, having faced tremendous economic depression due to the complete negligence of the military-ruled government, and countless pro-democracy demonstrations have been initiated since 1988. Nevertheless, the government crushed these uprisings through the use of arms, killing over 3,000 protestors and causing many more to flee the country as refugees. Once again, the military aimed to solidify its power, this time enforcing martial law, where the previously held civil law of Myanmar was suspended. Additionally, the government went as far as to place Aung San Suu Kyi, the face of the resistance, and countless others under house arrest.


Many regard Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the most influential women of our time. Greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, she was disgusted, to say the least by the mass slaughter of thousands of protestors by the military. She was the individual who truly began the nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar, risking even her own rights and personal safety to do so. Quickly rising to fame and obtaining increased support, the military took charge, as mentioned previously, by placing her and countless others under house arrest. For approximately the next 2 decades, Suu Kyi remained either under house arrest or imprisoned by the government. During this period, Suu Kyi was allowed minimal interaction with others, yet remained steadfast in opposing the dictatorial rule of the military. She was even awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the United States Congressional Gold Medal and rightfully so. Although she was finally released in 2010, many continue to see her as a beacon for human rights, a principled activist who gave up her freedom to challenge the ruthless army generals who ruled Myanmar for decades.


Nevertheless, after the house arrest of Suu Kyi, the military once again tightened its rule over Myanmar. In 1990, the government allowed free elections to be held and while the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party created by Aung San Suu Kyi to combat the military, won overwhelmingly, the military generals refused to hand over their power. This truly deceptive act led to the military remaining at the head of Myanmar’s politics for the subsequent 20 years. However, following Suu Kyi’s release in 2010, a series of reforms, most likely due to the increased national and international pressure, saw the country opening up to the world. Much beneficial change occurred as ceasefires were agreed upon with various rebel groups, peaceful protests were permitted, and private newspapers were established.


In the general Myanmar elections of 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD were able to secure large-enough majorities of seats in both legislative chambers to allow the party to form the next national government. While Aung San Suu Kyi was not able to run for president because previous laws enforced by the military prevented her from doing so, her close confidant, Htin Kyaw, became the NLD’s candidate for president. Surprisingly, the military respected the results of the election, stepping down from power after decades of unreasonable rule. For the next five years, the National League for Democracy ruled Myanmar well with Aung San Suu Kyi as State Counselor.


The recent Myanmar elections in November of 2020 resulted in the same outcome as the previous election in 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy once again won a landslide victory in the country’s 2020 elections, obtaining approximately 83 percent of the body’s available seats. This outcome essentially gave Suu Kyi a second term as state counselor, while U Win Myint planned to become president. However, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), backed by the military, claimed election fraud and irregularities in the vote, demanding the military to intervene. While the election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims of election fraud, both the members of the USDP and the military demanded a recount of the votes. The military even threatened to “take action”, leaving the people in Myanmar terribly frightened.


The people of Myanmar discovered specifically what action the military planned to take when all of these events culminated in the very recent coup d’etat of February 1st, 2021. The coup was announced on a military-owned TV station when a news presenter cited the 2008 constitution, which allowed the military to declare a national emergency. The state of emergency, he said, would remain in place for one year. After declaring this state of emergency, which would give the military all political power for the following year, the military generals detained Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and other senior figures from the National League for Democracy in a raid. The legal charge used by the military to detain Suu Kyi included the possession of illegally imported walkie-talkies, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 3 years in prison. Clearly, this absurd charge was truly just a way for the military to manipulate the law and create some way to continue detaining Suu Kyi. The military proceeded to hand over power to army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military's attacks on ethnic minorities.


The military’s purpose in this violent coup is questionable as well. They claim to have done so in response to alleged election fraud and to form a "true and disciplined democracy." However, as mentioned previously, there has been no evidence to support any notion of voter fraud and their claims are truly hypocritical - the armed officials are stating that they are working in the name of democracy by essentially destroying Aung San Suu Kyi’s increasingly democratic movement. Since the days following the actual coup d’etat on February 1st, the country of Myanmar and its people have been in utter chaos. Countless protests have occurred all over Myanmar, yet the military has continued to resort to violence, using hoses and even shooting and killing a protestor. Additionally, the now military-run government has taken action to prevent opposition to their rule, cutting all domestic and international flights, placing many even slightly suspected of opposing the military under house arrest, and imposing complete censorship over the press. In fact, the only private newspapers and T.V. channels that continue to exist are ones that are backed by the military and spread military propaganda. Many prominent individuals, including Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, have directly criticized the military’s oppression, corruption, and anti-democratical actions, especially since they are identical to those of previous military rule in Myanmar. As of now, the protestors and military are locked in a standstill, causing a great amount of destruction and chaos. However, there is still much confusion all around the world as many continue to hope for a return to true democracy in Myanmar.