On 1st February 2021, Burmese troops seized power in a coup d’état, arresting democratically elected leaders and replacing them with a junta (military government). This is not the first time the army has controlled Myanmar (also known as Burma) as it ran the country between 1962 and 2011. The army, or Tatmadaw, stated that they carried out the coup because of what they say was a rigged election. However, this has been rejected by the Union Election Commission (UEC) which is responsible for overseeing elections in Myanmar. There are also growing concerns that the Tatmadaw’s arrests and harassment of election officials is an attempt to pressure the UEC into backing their fraud claims.
The head of the Tatmadaw, Min Aung Hlaing, is now in charge of the country. Vice President Myint Swe, a former general who became infamous for his brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007, was appointed acting President. The coup was first announced on a military-owned TV channel, which justified it by citing part of the constitution which allows the military to take charge in times of national emergency. In accordance with this, the military declared a one-year long state of emergency.
Since the coup, protests have erupted across Myanmar, with thousands of residents taking to the streets to express their anger and frustration with the new regime. In the city of Yangon, residents banged pots and pans and honked their car horns as a form of protest. One of the protesters’ main demands is the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s democratically elected State Counsellor (equivalent to prime minister) whose National league for Democracy party won the 2020 election by a landslide, beating the military-backed ultranationalist Union Solidarity and Development Party. Suu Kyi was arrested on the first day of the coup.
The military has attempted to crackdown on the protests, passing new laws which could send activists to jail for 20 years for inciting hatred towards the military, though this threat does not seem to have deterred demonstrators. Recently, in a display of ruthlessness, armed police opened fire on protesters who had surrounded a power plant overnight out of fear that the military were about to cut the power. It is not known whether the bullets were rubber or real.
In another act of violence by the regime, a female protestor was recently shot in the head, and is reportedly being kept alive on a ventilator after becoming brain dead, with a bullet lodged in her skull. The junta has also repeatedly shut down the internet, and restricted access to Facebook, which has been used to organise protests.
In the Saffron Revolution of 2007-8, protesters were killed by the Tatmadaw as people from across Myanmar rose up against the oppressive military regime. The official death toll is 13, which includes a Japanese journalist who was killed, though ABC claims that the real death toll is in the hundreds. Many are worried that similar levels of violence could be seen again.
The coup is viewed as bad news by the international community. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and many other political figures from around the world have come out in opposition to the military takeover, though China blocked a UN resolution to officially condemn it, and some suggest that China supports the junta. However, many others contest this suggestion, saying that an isolationist Myanmar is not good for China.
Aung San Suu Kyi was supposed to stand trial on 15th February after being placed under house arrest for two weeks. However, her trial has been delayed two days. She will appear in court on Wednesday, where she faces charges including the unlawful possession of a communication device (a walkie-talkie).