Conflict Alerts # 223, 4 February 2021
In the news
On 1 February, in a military coup, the Myanmar army retook control. It has declared an emergency and has formed a new government headed by the Senior General Aung Myin Hlaing and former Vice President U Myint Swe. An 11-member cabinet of retired army personnel and USDP (Tatmadaw's proxy) members has been formed.
On 2 February, it released most of the leaders who were detained earlier; however, Aung San Suu Kyi and Myint Win are still in detention. On 3 February, Sui Kyi was also charged with breaching import-export law.
On 3 February, the UNSC met on the subject; however, a joint statement could not be made, as China blocked the move calling the coup as an internal matter of Myanmar.
Issues at large
First, the military's de facto control. It has been in power since the 1962 coup under the leadership of Ne Win. The period was marked by complete closure from the world and nominal economic growth. However, by 2010 under mounting economic slowdown, sanctions, public unrest and international pressure, the army merely heeded to the idea of democracy with a power-sharing arrangement of its own. The 2008 Constitution enabled 25 per cent reservation for the military in both the Houses. And in 2011, the USDP formed a government winning an election boycotted by opposition such as NLD, to convince the world about its democratic bid. In 2015, when NLD won through landslide votes, Tatmadaw still retained vital positions. The democratic government completed its five-year tenure due to Suu Kyi's appeasement policy, which garnered her worldwide criticism. But the November 2020 election had threatened this control, and the Tatmadaw took over the de facto power in the coup.
Second, the larger intention of the military. Although the army retained the 25 per cent of the seats in both the Houses, the USDP requires a minimum of 167 in the total 621 seats to retain control. However, it could secure only 39 seats. This would give the NLD adequate control to make legislative changes; starting from 2019, the NLD has been pushing constitutional amendments to reduce the military's footprint in the Parliament. Tatmadaw is against any amendment that would reduce its role. General Hlaing was to retire in 2021; perhaps, one of the coup's objectives is to prolong his control.
Third, the overt and covert support to the coup. It has received a lukewarm response from the region and its neighbours. There has been no condemnation from China - Myanmar's largest investor and trading partner. At the UNSC, China has a history of being the closest ally to the Junta.
First, the current Junta government promised to end the emergency within a year and call for a new democracy. But it is juvenile to believe in this promises and democracy seems to be a far-flung idea for the country.
Second, there is a growing expectation of public protests starting with the medical staff going into a civil disobedience movement as announced on 2 February. But given the history, the protests are not enough to remove the power monger Tatmadaw from power.