THE political crisis triggered by the military coup in Myanmar on Feb 1 is worsening, with the generals refusing to budge and the country’s people not willing to accept the derailing of the democratic process. By now, several people have been killed as protesters have squared off against security forces. As per one count, at least 30 deaths have been reported since Feb 1, while over 1,000 people have been detained. Some of the worst violence was witnessed over the weekend, as troops reportedly fired live rounds at demonstrators. The crisis was triggered when the military — which wielded immense power in the country even before the coup — refused to accept election results in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy put up a strong showing. The junta, citing ‘irregularities’, decided to swoop in, overthrowing the elected government and putting major civilian leaders, led by Ms Suu Kyi, in detention. Ever since, hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar have been taking to the streets, demanding a return to democracy.

There has been great international pressure on Myanmar’s generals to step back and let civilian rule resume. The latest effort came on Tuesday, when leaders of Asean — the regional bloc the country is part of — called for a release of political prisoners and a restoration of democracy. While Myanmar’s democracy was far from perfect, it is only the continuation of the political process that can address the country’s myriad ethnic and religious problems with justice. Asean, the UN and other multilateral bodies must communicate clearly to the junta that an early return to civilian rule must be a priority, while deadly force against protesters cannot be tolerated. Too many developing nations have seen their political growth retarded because of interventions by unelected forces. Myanmar itself was just emerging from decades of military rule. The country’s generals must go back to the barracks and return power to the civilians immediately in order to prevent the crisis from escalating further.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2021

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