Myanmar: What is Happening?

Suu Kyi, Myanmar

This alert brings you up to date with the unfolding situation in Myanmar after the military coup on February 1st. Information will be updated regularly by the Editor-in-Chief. 

What happened? 

  • A military coup on February 1st has ended Myanmar’s march towards democracy. 
  • National League for Democracy (NLD) members, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were arrested. 
  • A ‘one-year state of emergency’ was imposed, and army chief General Min Aung Hlaing now holds power. 
  • The Tatmadaw or military claim they responded to “alleged fraud” during the November 2020 elections where the pro-military party won only 33 /476 seats. 
  • International observers have rejected these allegations. 

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

  • She is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San.
  • Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who won the 1990 elections.
  • The military refused to accept NLD’s win, staged a coup,  placed Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1990-2010. 
  • In 1991, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy. 
  • After being released from home arrest, she won democratic elections in 2015 and 2020. 

What about Suu Kyi’s views on human rights?

  • Suu Kyi faced international backlash for her comments supporting the Myanmar military for their actions against Muslim Rohingyas. 
  • She defended the generals against the International Criminal Court’s accusations of genocide carried out against Rohingya people. 
  • The Rohingya are considered ‘invaders’ by the local population, and her domestic popularity was enhanced after these comments.  

So, no more elections?

  • The military has promised elections in one year. 
  • Its presumable hope is to increase popularity and be able to gather more vote share. 
  • The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won only 7% of the vote in November 2020 elections. Suu Kyi’s party won over 80%. 
  • This is the likely factor behind the coup — the military not wanting to lose social relevance. 
  • However, the elections could be pushed further indefinitely, and once conducted, are unlikely to be free and fair. 

What about the Rohingya people?

  • Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country. 
  • The Muslim minority has faced institutionalised discrimination, such as exclusionary citizenship laws. 
  • In 2017, a genocide campaign was driven by the army that led to over 740,000 Rohingya people fleeing the country. 
  • There is a sense of palpable fear after the military took over. 

What about the economy?

  • The transition to democracy in 2015 was favourable for the economy. 
  • Investment inflows were recorded which will likely be reserved now given the coup. 
  • China will likely play a significant role if the junta government allies with it. 
  • Renewable of sanctions and economic isolation from western countries is exceptionally likely.  
  • This, combined with the shock from the pandemic, will significantly hurt growth prospects. 

 What is the international response? 

  • The UK and EU have been critical of the coup. 
  • US President Joe Biden has condemned the action stating “force should never seek to overrule the will of the people” and that he will review previously revoked sanctions against Myanmar. 
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the coup was “a serious blow to democratic reforms.”
  • China urged all sides to “resolve differences”, a much softer note than Western countries. 
  • Regional players such as the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand have termed it an “internal matter”. 

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