PART ONE: MYANMAR BEFORE AND DURING THE 2021 COUP
Since the coup seized power in 2021, the military announced a state of emergency for one year, extended it up to 2023 and established the so-called State Administration Council (SAC). The military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, appointed himself as Prime Minister of Myanmar and created a caretaker government. The SAC military carried out mass killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and other abuses against anti-coup protesters and civilians. Then, the security force crackdown spread beyond cities into rural and ethnic minority areas. In the following months, civilians formed “defence forces” with handmade guns and modern arms to resist the SAC military across Myanmar.
The Years Before the Coup
Myanmar has suffered through one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. The violence was often between the government and different ethnic armed groups (Rodger, 2018). The military government announced a referendum in May 2008 to approve a new constitution for the country and general elections for 2010. They had already controlled the new parliament with an allocation of 25 per cent of the seats and veto power over parliamentary decisions. The proposed constitution guaranteed the people’s right to form political organizations, including unions (Paul, 2010). Since 2011, Myanmar has experienced a political transition from military rule to civil society. In November 2015, a national election was held for the first time in 25 years. In March 2016, there was a hybrid government under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi who had assumed power. However, the military had automatic control with 25 per cent of the seats in parliament and the power of the Commander in Chief to appoint key government Ministers (Mannan, 2017, Huang, 2021).
When the NLD government held the November 8, 2020 election, it was my first-time experience to vote under the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the NLD garnered an even larger win in the National Parliament than had been anticipated by most observers, taking 396 of the available 426 seats. The USDP won only seven seats in the upper house, twenty-six in the lower house, and only thirty-eight in all the state/regional parliaments, far less than expected and in vast contrast to its extensive Naypyidaw physical headquarters, built to endorse materially its projected role in state affairs (Steinberg, 2021).
Today, Myanmar is one of the most badly affected countries in the world. The reasons are complex. Even before the military State Administration Council seized power on 1 Feb 2021, the arrival of Covid-19 proved extremely untimely when it first emerged during the early months of 2020. Amidst virus restrictions, NLD leaders made the fateful decision to go ahead with the November 2020 general election. The NLD was using Covid-19 to try and gain political advantage. Party supporters believed that the NLD could achieve social and political change with another five years in government. This aspiration was soon thwarted. Min Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw generals took a very different view, quietly making plans for another military interdiction of the elected government. The outcome was the SAC coup on 1 February and the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders (Myanmar Policy Briefing, 2021). (
Overview of the 2021 Demonstrations
Myanmar gained independence (and left the Commonwealth) in 1948. A federal democratic government was established but most of the power remained with the central government. The military’s dissatisfaction with party politics and with U Nu’s willingness to consider ceding more power to the ethnic minority states led Ne Win to stage a coup in 1962. Subsequently, several ethnic nationalist armies waged war with the Tatmadaw in the hill regions but central Myanmar remained largely quiescent (Fink, 2009). The military regime has functioned along with a political wing, under Ne Win, it was the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), then the National Unity Party (NUP) and the latest party’s name is the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) (Paul, 2010).
Prior to the coup, the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had alleged irregularities and fraud in the elections conducted on 8 November 2020. The military demanded that the NLD disband Myanmar’s electoral body, the Union Election Commission, and recount all of the November votes with military assistance. These demands were conclusively rejected by the NLD at a meeting on 28 January 2021, two days before the coup. The vice president signed off on the coup under Section 417 of the Myanmar constitution which allows for the declaration of a one-year state of emergency if the country faces a threat that “may disintegrate the Union or disintegrate national solidarity or that may cause the loss of sovereignty.”
In the early hours of 1 February 2021, the military rolled into Naypyidaw with armoured vehicles and detained dozens of senior NLD officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint with his junta nominated vice president, Myint Swe, appointed as acting president. By the end of the day, 400 parliamentarians were isolated under house arrest, and tens of arrest warrants against activists had been issued (Sarma and Kapur, 2021).
The day after February 1, 2021, the military declared a state of emergency and created a new State Administration Council (SAC), based in Naypyidaw. In its notification 9/2021 on February 2, 2021, the military announced the formation of a State Administration Council (SAC), initially with 11 members, of which 8 were members of the military. The military said the SAC, chaired by the military commander-in-chief was formed pursuant to section 419 of the constitution, which states that the commander-in-chief will have the powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary (Kipgen, 2022). On August 1, the junta declared that the SAC had become a” Caretaker Government” (Selth, 2021). Since the 2021 coup, the nationwide opposition movement and its strong international support can only have added to those fears. The generals’ response had characteristically been to take whatever steps were deemed necessary to remove, or at least reduce those threats, all in the name of the country’s stability, unity and sovereignty. It was the military force against its own citizens, the collapse of the economy, or the destruction of the country’s civil society through poverty, hunger and disease (Selth, 2021).
About the author:
PEN is the pseudonym of a writer who hails from Burma, has a Bachelor and Master’s degree.