A coup in Myanmar has left the military in control under a one-year state of emergency, while the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior politicians have been detained. Here’s a look at what could be behind the military’s actions.
Monday was supposed to be the first day of a new session of Parliament following November elections that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide — and that the military-backed party did poorly in. The military has claimed widespread irregularities on voter lists could have led to fraud in that vote, though the election commission said there was no evidence to support those claims.
But the announcement on military-owned Myawaddy TV of the takeover cited the government’s failure to act on the allegations as part of the reason for the move. It also said the government’s failure to postpone the elections despite the coronavirus pandemic was behind it.
The military maintains its actions are legally justified, and the announcement cited an article in the constitution that allows the military to take over in times of emergency, though Suu Kyi’s party’s spokesman and many outsiders have said it’s effectively a coup.
Some experts expressed puzzlement that the military would move to upset the status quo — in which the generals continue to hold tremendous power despite progress toward democracy in recent years.
But some noted the looming retirement of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has been commander of the armed forces since 2011 and who was put in charge on Monday.
“There’s internal military politics around that, which is very opaque,” said Kim Jolliffe, a researcher on Myanmar civilian and military relations. “This might be reflecting those dynamics and might be somewhat of a coup internally and his way of maintaining power within the military.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING INSIDE MYANMAR?
Television signals were cut across the country, as was phone and internet access in Naypyitaw, the capital, while passenger flights were grounded. Phone service in other parts of the country was also reported down, though people were still able to use the internet in many areas.
Barbed wire road blocks were set up across Yangon, the largest city, and military units began to appear outside government buildings such as City Hall.
Residents flocked to ATMs and food stalls, while some shops and homes removed the symbols of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, that typically adorn the streets and walls of the city.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR SUU KYI?
Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar. But her reputation outside of the country soured after she went on the international stage to defend a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims — a campaign the U.S. and others have labeled genocide.
Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson questioned Suu Kyi’s ability to lead given that defense.
“Because of Suu Kyi’s failure to promote democratic values as Myanmar’s de facto leader, she should step aside and let other Myanmar democratic leaders take the reins with international backing and support,” Richardson said in a statement.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Governments and international organizations condemned the takeover, saying it sets back the limited democratic reforms Myanmar has made.
“This is an extremely crushing blow to efforts to present Myanmar as a democracy,” said Linda Lakhdhir, a legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “Its creditability on the world stage has taken a massive hit.”
Watchdog groups fear a further crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists is coming. Even before the current military takeover critics of the military often faced legal action.
The coup will also be a test for the international community, which had isolated Myanmar during the decades it was under strict military rule but then enthusiastically embraced it as it moved toward democracy in recent years.
In a statement condemning the military’s actions, U.S. President Joe Biden threatened to impose new sanctions on Myanmar — a possibility others have raised.
Myanmar’s military leaders “must immediately free the democratic leaders of Myanmar and remove themselves from government,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If not, the United States and other countries should impose strict economic sanctions, as well as other measures” against the military and its leaders, he said.