The Coup D’etat that Halted Myanmar’s Democratic Rise

Written by: Garrett Halak

With many clinging onto Myanmar’s young democracy and its promise of free elections, the citizens of the country have taken to the streets. Prompted by the coup d’etat that occurred on February 1st, Myanmar’s quasi-democracy is watching its own demise as the Tatmadaw regains political power.  

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar – informally known as Burma – has been moving towards democratization under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The 2020 election cycle saw the National League for Democracy win 83 percent of body seats and prompted the continued move towards democracy. However, just one day before the 2020 elected leaders would assume office, the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – repositioned power to be vested in the Commander in Chief of Defense Services, Min Aung Hlaing.

Under the Tatmadaw, Aung San Suu Kyi and many prominent figures of the National League for Democracy have been detained and denied their elected positions. After the declaration of a year-long state of emergency, Min Aung Hlaing stated that the junta will take their movement one step further by forming a “true and disciplined democracy” in the name of the so-called public interest.

Under the junta, Myanmar citizens have been denied much of their former mobility and outside communication. The commander-in-chief has ordered the military to impose strict restrictions on gatherings and air travel – both international and domestic. Furthermore, television broadcasts are suspended throughout much of Myanmar and many large cities saw the failure of internet services.

Dissatisfied and disapproving, the Burmese have taken to the streets requesting the release of detained officials and demanding an end to military rule. Heterogeneous by means of demographics, these citizens come from various backgrounds and are made up of all ages. Protestors consist of lawyers, doctors, students, teachers, cultivators, and government workers.

Met with rubber bullets, barricades, and water guns, protestors remain insistent on the return of Myanmar’s prior political structure. The military has also taken measures through the imposition of night curfews and the restriction of large gatherings. With continued disapproval in Myanmar, protests became violent once the junta used live ammunition. On February 20th there was a stark transition from peaceful to deadly as security forces shot two unarmed protestors – one just 16 years of age. Following this incident and continued civil disobedience and protest, the armed forces have increased attacks. As of March 6th, more than 60 people had been killed by the brute force of the Tatmadaw.

Myanmar’s military is known for paralyzing democratic strides and forming dictatorial leadership. Hence, many foreign nations and governing bodies have censured the coup. The United States and the United Kingdom have implemented sanctions on various military officials. Additionally, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a statement, saying that this is a “serious blow to democratic reforms”. The Chinese response saw disagreement with the United Nations statement but reiterated the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the hopeful return to prior democratic conventions.

There is no telling which direction Myanmar’s future is heading. While assistance by the United States and the United Nations seems unlikely, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries seek peaceful diplomatic relations and potential intervention amidst this complicated time.

In considering interference by international powers within Myanmar, physical force is far from feasible. Rather, the United States and other world powers should encourage a return to democratic norms through continued sanctions and the restriction of other interacting systems between nations. In honoring Myanmar’s long history and people’s dire demands in upholding democratic progress and free and fair elections, Myanmar must seek a just resolution.