Just two months after Aung Sun Suu Kyis National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the general elections in Myanmar, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia is facing the threat of a military coup.
The military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Myanmar has disputed the results of the general elections held on November 8 last year, in which the NLD secured way above the 322 seats required to form the government. It was the second general polls since 2011, when the military rule ended in the country.
Earlier this week, the army had warned that it will take action if the complaints about “election fraud” were not addressed. It also hinted at the possibility of a coup.
Sources on Friday said that a military coup appeared to be a likely outcome given China’s grip over the internal situation in the country.
Myanmar’s military junta, which ruled the country through the 90s and 2000s, has had the backing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After a long struggle against the military regime for nearly two decades, Suu Kyi led Myanmar’s transition to a partial democracy in the last five years.
Suu Kyi, a former Nobel laureate, however, faced widespread criticism from the West when her government expelled around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims accused of perpetrating Islamist terrorism and propagating separatism. In a case filed by a group of Islamic countries at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, she has been accused of genocide of Rohingyas.
However, her government, whose survival depends on the military, not only stood by the army, but also began engaging Beijing to secure investments. For China, Myanmar is of strategic importance due to its access to the Indian Ocean, the main route for China’s oil imports from the Middle East.
Beijing is keen on the development of overland routes for oil and gas pipelines via the Kyaukphyu special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port, which will allow it to bypass the South China Sea where the US and Japan are challenging its sovereignty.
While New Delhi has been interested in Myanmar’s entry into Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping against Beijing, China seems to have extended its backing to the military in Myanmar, amid the rapidly evolving situation in the region.
India and China remain locked in a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh since last year, while Washington-Beijing relations also deteriorated over their bilateral trade and later over the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan city of Hubei province in China.
On Friday, Australia, the sharpest critic of the Chinese government, along with other democracies including the UK and the US, warned Myanmar’s military against staging a coup.
A joint statement from the diplomatic missions in Myanmar, said, “We urge the military, and all other parties in the country, to adhere to democratic norms and we oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also issued a statement, calling on “all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation, demonstrate leadership, and to adhere to democratic norms and respecting the outcome of the November 8 general election. All electoral disputes should be resolved through established legal mechanisms”.