Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 332, 25 February 2021

Myanmar: Pro-democracy protests continue despite the violence
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news
On 22 February, millions of pro-democracy protestors held a general strike referred to as ‘22222’ across Myanmar. On the same day, people protested in front of the Chinese Embassy for the latter warning the international community not to interfere in Myanmar.  

On 23 February, a protest was held in front of the Indonesian Embassy apprehending Jakarta’s push for re-election in Myanmar. However, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia (who is scheduled to visit Myanmar next week) denied such an allegation. On 21 February, several protestors joined a young woman’s funeral; she was first among the five fatalities of the violence. On 23 February, the military government threatened action against the government health workers who had participated in the civil disobedience movement.

On 22 February, outside Myanmar, a pro-democracy protest was held by the Myanmarese in Japan and by the Rohingyas’ in their camps in Bangladesh. Also, sanctions were imposed by the G7 and the EU on financial assistance or development aid to Myanmar. 

Issues at large
First, the intensification of protests despite the violence. In the 2020 elections, a 70 per cent turnout regardless of the pandemic and 83 per cent of votes to NLD proves the support for democracy.  People are not ready to give this away without a fight, as the protests include every age and class. Also, the protests are widespread and not limited only to major cities. People belonging to different ethnicities such as Chin, Shan, Mon and others have also joined the protests.

Second, the importance of the sanctions against the regime. Although the spokesperson of General Min Aung Hlaing has refuted any larger impact, it is not true. This statement came immediately after the US sanctions on the General and his associates, on 12 February. The sanctions make an impact; in 2010, they played a role when the military agreed to a façade democracy. 

Third, the government retaliation against the protestors. This week has seen a major shift in the military’s stand. As of 24 February, more than 600 have been detained. Several laws of the colonial-era Penal Code have been amended, redefining the meaning of high treason and sedition, to legalise the coup. It also pushed for new IT department legislation which enables them to interfere in the personal usages of the internet. The media has been warned against the usage of ‘Junta’ and ‘regime’. 

In perspective 
First, the military’s retaliation makes it evident that violence will increase in the upcoming weeks. But it may not demotivate the protestors. There is massive support for the demand for democracy which will act as fuel to instigate many more to join the on-going protests.

Second, one of the largest ramifications of the crackdown will result in an influx of refugees to the neighbouring countries. This has been a norm in Myanmar since the 1988 protests. 

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