A decade after the junta’s end, Myanmar’s military has seized power in a coup and declared a state of emergency, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior politicians from the ruling party.
An announcement broadcast on military-owned Myawaddy TV revealed that the army had taken control of the country for one year, with power delegated to commander-in-chief, general Min Aung Hlaing. The government’s failure to act on the military’s claims of voter fraud in last November’s election – which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide victory – has been cited as reason for the insurrection.
The nation’s de facto leader and Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is no stranger to global controversy in the eyes of the international community, having received widespread criticism in the past over her unwillingness to condemn the atrocities forced upon the Rohingya minority by the military. In Myanmar, however, she remains a beloved figure. The takeover represents a sharp reversal of the slight yet significant progress towards democracy Myanmar has made in the recent years, following five decades of military rule and the country’s international isolation that began in 1962.
And yet, history may well turn on its head, cautions David Mathieson, former senior researcher on Myanmar for the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. “The army’s actions could easily backfire,” he alleges, “I don’t think they can count on the inaction of a lot of people around the country. You’ve got a generation who grew up with her in house arrest, and a younger generation who grew up with her being free, and really supporting her. And there are a lot of people in ethnic states who can’t stand her, or her party – but hate the military.”
In response to the coup, a verified Facebook account from the country’s National League for Democracy party published a handwritten note on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, urging citizens to protest and wholeheartedly oppose any return to “military dictatorship.” Indeed, resistance to the military in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, is reportedly growing, with residents banging pots and pans, and honking car horns to express their dissatisfaction. Medical staff in several major cities are reportedly planning strikes, while the Yangon Youth Network activist group has launched a civil disobedience campaign.
As seen in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia over the last year – will the beginning of 2021 similarly be marked by a civilian uprising in Myanmar?