Myanmar about-face

Published August 4, 2021

SIX months into the coup that sent Myanmar’s hybrid civ-mil government packing, the generals have made their intentions clear: they are in no hurry to return to any form of representative rule. While addressing the country recently, coup leader Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that emergency rule would be extended to 2023, while the military ruler also declared himself prime minister. Moreover, he put to rest any chances of reconciliation with civilian leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her NLD party by accusing the organisation of “terrorism”. While there was a massive civil disobedience campaign against the junta’s takeover, it seems fatigue is setting in as the movement has weakened, while the generals tighten their grip over power. Around 900 people have been killed in violence related to anti-coup protests.

For much of its postcolonial history Myanmar has been under military rule. There was some hope that democracy would be allowed to flourish when the NLD won elections in 2015 and Ms Suu Kyi took up the mantle of state counsellor in 2016. However, even this set-up was controlled by the generals as the military granted itself a guaranteed number of seats within the legislature. Ms Suu Kyi’s period was not exactly ideal. For example, she did little to stop the military from pursuing murderous policies against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority although continuing on the path of full, unhindered democracy could have improved the situation. Earlier this year, the generals decided to drop the facade and hoard all power for themselves. The coup of course does not bode well for Myanmar, especially for its ethnic and religious minorities. There is pressure, especially from the West, on Asean — the regional grouping Myanmar is part of — to convince the generals to stop the crackdown on activists. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the junta will relinquish power anytime soon, and the cycle of dictatorship and stalled democratic experiments Myanmar has experienced for the last several decades will likely continue.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2021

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