The army seized power in a coup on Monday, but the military’s shadow has been influencing the country’s politics for a long time.
The army declared military rule in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, on Monday morning and detained its de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, citing “fraud" in the November 2020 elections. The military also declared a state of emergency for one year, handing power to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
This move, however, was not unexpected, as its shadow hovered above the country. Political tensions had been on the rise for a long time.
- Myanmar is familiar with army rule
Myanmar’s transition efforts from military rule to democracy is not a distant memory. Until the democratic reforms began in 2011, the country was ruled by the military, a fact that continued to influence the country's institutions throughout the subsequent years.
In 2015, Myanmar formed its first ever civilian government when Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the elections with a landslide vote. Suu Kyi, however, only became the de facto leader, the court barred her from becoming the president.
The country’s constitution, which was drafted by the former military regime in 2008, gives the military a parliamentary reservation of 25 percent out of the total number of 476 seats. Under the constitution, the commander-in-chief has extraordinary powers to override the role of the president, while controlling the defence, border and interior affairs ministries.
- Why the military intervention was expected
In the November election, Suu Kyi’s NLD secured enough seats to form a government. Yet, the military objected to the results, saying that fraud had occurred in voter lists and other documents.
This is the army’s first coup d'etat against a civilian government since 1962, but it began giving signs of its possible intervention after the latest elections. The government's tensions with the military leaders were, however, known long before the elections. Suu Kyi, formerly a political prisoner, was under house arrest for 15 years on the orders of the military. The bill that was passed by parliament, approving her as the de-facto leader in 2016, was opposed by the military figures.
The election results in November, therefore, came as a major blow to the military.
The coup that followed came on the week when the parliament was set to swear in the new government.
The military was reportedly concerned about an update in the constitution that could have erased its influence in parliament by changing the balance of power.
- Is it going to affect the Rohingya Muslims?
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is largely popular at home. Her standing, once praised in the west as a bastion of democracy, however, was largely damaged due to her silence over Myanmar’s repressive policy against Muslims in its western Rakhine state. More than 900,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border to Bangladesh after the state launched a military campaign in 2017 on the pretext of “combating militants.”
But the United Nations, where Suu Kyi once worked, has rejected the claim saying that the operation that unleashed a series of atrocities had “genocidal intent.”
The toppled leader derives support at home from the majority Bamar Buddhist ethnic group. She was criticised abroad for stripping voting rights of around 2.6 million people, including Rohingya people.
It's unlikely that her ousting would change the country's policy in the Rakhine state, as the military has been at the forefront of a brutal campaign against the Rohingya. The UN blames the military for crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings, the burning of entire villages and the rape of women in the Rakhine state.
The United States in 2019 imposed sanctions on Min Aung Hlaing, the military leader who took power on Monday, as well as three other military leaders for the crimes against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
He has several cases pending against him in various international courts.