What to do about Myanmar

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

Ever since a Feb. 1, a military-led coup d’etat succeeded in overthrowing Myanmar’s rightfully elected leader, the country that over 50 million call home has fallen into chaos and disorder and protests and uprisings are a constant presence in the streets alongside the horrific brutality of military countermeasures. Countless arrests and imprisonments have occurred, with dozens of lives lost as a result.

The February coup was not the first time Myanmar has been driven under martial law since gaining its independence from Britain in 1948 – nor is this even rhe first coup d’etat since decolonization. The current circumstances in Myanmar are largely a response to this year’s general election, when the military’s political party was defeated by the National League for Democracy, its chief opposition. Following the election, key military figures cast the election results as fraudulent, subsequently detaining the civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Authority was then transferred to army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Throughout its history, Myanmar has been stricken with political and civil unrest in a cyclical manner, alternating between autocratic military rule and democratization. Despite this, the military junta’s hold on Myanmar has always been quite firm, even when democratic transitions have occurred. Under the military-authored 2008 Constitution, for instance, the military retained the right to assign a quarter of parliamentary seats. Given the additional requirement that any charter changes must be approved by over 75 percent of lawmakers, that provides the military with a guaranteed veto and an essential chokehold on any changes made in government.

The junta present themselves as an entity fighting for the rights of the people in Myanmar, who saw the “fraudulent election” as an attack on national sovereignty. This sentiment was repeatedly introduced into the homes of Myanmarese citizens by military-controlled media. 

Despite the statement mentioning a Constitutional clause that ostensibly justified the junta’s actions, it is worth noting that it does not, in fact, allow for a military usurpation under the guise of a national emergency. The power rests with the sitting president to declare emergencies, but Counsellor Suu Kyi was deposed in an early morning raid, alongside a number of her allies.

From the very beginning of the coup, the junta was faced with fierce opposition by civilian protests, with a three-finger salute widely adopted by protestors as well as red apparel, symbols with clear connection to the country’s National League for Democracy party.

However, the work of the military to stifle the civilian outcry throughout the country has been severe. Thousands have been detained and incarcerated, and around 60 have been confirmed dead. Efforts to silence media dissenters have been made as well, with Associated Press journalist Thein Zhaw and several other media workers being charged for their coverage of the protests. Internet and news blackouts have only served to fuel confusion and spread misinformation.

From an outsider’s perspective, the situation in Myanmar is horrifying. It is difficult to imagine how it must be for those trapped inside the country, as well as a challenge to see how such a political climate can be repaired. The military junta has claimed that the state of emergency and martial law would last only a single year, yet even if they return power and allow for democratic elections to proceed smoothly, the possibility of another coup, given the success of this most recent attempt, cannot be ruled out. 

To that end, Myanmar’s U.N ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged the international community to take decisive action in helping remove the military from power and return democratic rule to the country, accompanying his passionate speech with the characteristic three-finger salute. His words were met with derision by the coup’s leadership, and Moe Tun was swiftly fired due to claims that he had, according to state television, “betrayed his country.” While it is comforting to note that the U.N. has not formally recognized his firing, it is worrying to consider the ease in which the junta has been able to concoct a narrative and force it on the media.

Restrictive actions have been taken to make the junta’s rule in Myanmar more difficult. Numerous countries have distanced themselves or severed diplomatic ties as a response to the coup, and companies like Amata, Suzuki Motor and Kirin Company have ended ventures or domestic operations in the country. These steps undoubtedly harm the junta, but the truth is that they inevitably hurt Myanmar’s citizens, too.

That is not to say that these aren’t necessary preventative measures, and efforts such as a movement to boycott products connected to the military have emerged in the protests that bear similarities to the international response. But these are short-term solutions to a systemic problem in the country. There must be broader, more long-term efforts to effectively reduce or remove military authority in Myanmar. Otherwise, the people in the country will be forced to live under the constant threat of an entity that lurks in broad daylight. 

Recently, the U.N Security Council voted on a statement condemning the events in Myanmar and implored a restoration of democracy in the country. But not only is such a statement far from an effective action to take for the U.N, but it did not even pass given that the resolution needed to be unanimous and both China and Russia refused. Unity both at the state level and abroad is a critical factor in aiding Myanmar, but the unfortunate reality is that necessary allies like Russia and particularly China are hesitant or, in some cases, fully resistant to any meaningful outreach, possibly as a result of seeing few problems with the familiar tactics used by the junta against the Myanmarese people. 

It is difficult to say where to go from here, but it is important to at the very least acknowledge the core issue. Strong words and makeshift solutions are not enough to remedy the root of the problem, which is an unstable democracy in a newly developing country prone to inner conflict. The international community needs to take greater steps in aiding Myanmar with efforts not only to help the present issue but also those that could potentially and inevitably arrive later.

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