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While You Were Sleeping: Myanmar’s Government Arrested in Coup

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While You Were Sleeping: Myanmar’s Government Arrested in Coup

After Myanmar’s November 2020 elections, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a decisive victory over the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), tensions began to boil. Within weeks, they bubbled over in the early-morning hours of Feb. 1, culminating in a military coup. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been the subject of severe criticism for human rights violations. Liberty Nation was among the first to provide in-depth coverage of the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, a Muslim community living in a predominantly Buddhist country. As LN’s Nathan Steelwater reported in 2017:

“Myanmar’s government has stated that ‘clearance operations’ against Rohingya militants concluded on September 5 and that 400 were killed. Reports from multiple sources, to include the BBC, Amnesty International, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), more commonly known as Doctors Without Borders, have concluded that the violence is far more widespread than the government claims. MSF suggests a death toll of at least 6,700 in the first month alone.”

More recently, the U.N. Human Rights Watch World Report 2020 described similar atrocities, stating: “A United Nations-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) found sufficient evidence to call for the investigation of senior military officials for crimes against humanity and genocide against ethnic Rohingya Muslims.”

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

Against the backdrop of these disturbing allegations, a military coup d’etat removed the newly elected leaders. The Associated Press’ Elaine Kurtenbach and Victoria Milko reported that the Myanmar Army leadership installed Myint Swe, the former “army-appointed vice president, as the President.” Immediately after being appointed, Myint Swe relinquished power to the country’s highest-ranking military leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Both Myint Swe and Min Aung Hlaing have been accused of participating in “what amounted to ethnic cleansing operations” against the beleaguered Rohingya minority.

According to Fox News, members of the military junta detained the elected State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint on the opening day of the new parliament. After the arrest of Suu Kyi and other NLD party leaders, the military declared a one-year state of emergency and moved swiftly to establish control. It  justified its actions by referring to “a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency.”

What prompted the “national emergency” was the assertion of election fraud by the coup leaders. According to Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, and Simon Tran Hudes, Research Associate, Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the military-endorsed candidates made an abysmal showing in the election. The NLD picked up 396 of the 476 available seats and the military-backed USDP won only 33 seats. It wasn’t even close. Not tolerating the “embarrassing rebuke for the army,” Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called foul. Because the margin of victory for Suu Kyi’s party was decidedly large, he apparently decided something had gone wrong.

Poling and Hudes explained that there were problems. For example, the NLD government disallowed voting in areas where there was the “risk of violence between the military, and ethnic armed organizations was deemed too high.” Consequently, the voting prohibition impacted more than a million people in the Rakhine State, populated mainly by the Rohingya. However, Poling and Hudes believe this disparity was not enough to dilute the “NLD’s overwhelming nationwide victory.”

But why stage a coup?

Myanmar featurePoling and Hudes believe the decision to proceed was made by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Set for retirement in July 2021, Min Aung Hlaing had designs on a political future; when the election failed for the military-backed party, those aspirations seemed doomed. Add to that a deep personal enmity between Min Aung Hlaing and Suu Kyi, which was likely a contributing factor.

The diplomatic community has been quick to condemn the Myanmar military takeover. Fox News correspondent Peter Aitken explained, “The international community has largely condemned the swift power grab, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing ‘grave concern’ about the declaration that all powers have been transferred to the military.” Aitken quoted a tweet from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that condemned the coup and “unlawful imprisonment of civilians … The vote of the people must be respected, and civilian leaders released.” Quoting President Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Aitken said, “the US will ‘take action against those responsible’ if the steps ‘are not reversed.’” Psaki did not explain what those “steps” might be.

BBC interview of a 25-year-old Yangon (Rangoon) Myanmar Capital resident set the coup in sad context. He reflected, “Waking up to learn your world has been completely turned upside down overnight was not a new feeling, but a feeling that I thought that we had moved on from, and one that I never thought we’d be forced to feel again.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.


Read more from Dave Patterson.

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