On February 1, the Myanmar military staged a coup d’etat, overthrowing the Southeast Asian country’s government. This restricting takeover, involving the detainments of government officials and internet shutdowns, came after a 12-year quasi-democratic rule under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 1948 Myanmar’s government began to shift between military rule and civilian administration. While the military, the Tatmadaw, still holds a large amount of political influence, its rule ended in 2011, when a civilian government was installed. In 2015 Counsellor Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took control of the government. Myanmar’s November 2020 election resulted in the NLD winning over 80% of the country’s vote and gaining control over the government. The Tatmadaw, however, claimed the election was fraudulent and, demanding a repeat, surrounded the houses of Parliament. The election commission denied their request, and tensions began to rise leading up to the first parliamentary session scheduled for February 1, with Counsellor Suu Kyi urging her supporters to protest against a military coup. That morning, the Myanmar military took control, detaining Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and many other government officials.
Led by General Min Aung Hlaing, who had maintained significant political influence even while the country steered toward democracy, the military has declared a year-long national state of emergency. Most television broadcasts, social media sites and all domestic and international flights have been suspended. According to the New York Times, even commercial banks have closed, forcing citizens to line up at ATMs. Citizens in Yangon, the country’s largest city, have hurried to the markets to stock up on food and supplies.
Even more concerning, however, is what may lie ahead for the country’s population of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority who have long been subjected to discrimination and religious persecution. In 2017 military troops attacked and burned down villages, killing thousands of Rohingya Muslims and forcing even more to flee the country. Many are worried that Myanmar’s return to military rule could lead to more violence toward such minority groups.
The international reaction to the military coup has been, for the most part, one of condemnation, with Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, stating that the “vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.” The U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, said the takeover “represent[s] a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar,” and the Biden administration has threatened to re-impose sanctions. China, Myanmar’s largest neighboring country, has responded cautiously, however. According to the New York Times, China has communicated positively with both Counsellor Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw. “China and Myanmar are friendly neighbors,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson. “We hope that all parties will properly handle their differences under the Constitution and legal framework to maintain political and social stability.”
Meanwhile, protests have broken out in many nearby countries, including India, Thailand, Israel and South Korea. In Myanmar, too, demonstrators have taken to the streets, chanting phrases such as “Military dictator, fail, fail,” and “Democracy, win, win.” According to BBC, protests have been generally peaceful, but police have blocked the main roads armed with riot shields. On Saturday the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, ordered a full internet blackout, and many were worried about what may happen outside of the world’s eyes. In 1988 and 1997, amidst similar protests, the military abducted and tortured demonstrators, and even started shooting people in the street. The internet blackout ended after a day, but access to social media remains blocked as of February 7. Demonstrations have continued, with protestors touting signs reading “No military coup” and calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
“When I heard about the coup happening, I didn’t think much of it initially,” said Susan Par, president of Hope College’s Asian Student Union. “However, after a day or so, I became worried as more news came and I started seeing the people being injured and killed as Myanmar’s military completely took over the country.” Par, a pre-med student majoring in business, was “angry at Min Aung Hlaing for not accepting defeat and for claiming the votes were fraudulent.” She was also discouraged as she saw posts on social media of friends who couldn’t contact their families because of disconnected internet and phone services. Seeing “people from all over the country, gathering, protesting,” however, gave her hope. Par also mentioned, “the best way to help is to call our Congressional representatives and ask for U.S. Action to stop this.”