What Went Down in Myanmar- A Detailed Account
The Southeast Asian nation has witnessed unending chaos and unrest since a successfully attempted coup in February this year. Close to 1,100 civilians lost their lives in a violent crackdown on dissent and approximately 8,000 were arrested by the police, as per the figures of a local monitoring group. If we track down the chronology of events, the country held its Parliamentary elections in late 2020 and the National League for Democracy, a party led by the sitting leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was able to secure a landslide victory with the most legislative seats. The country’s Parliament was expected to hold its very first session since the conclusion of the November 8 elections. Myanmar’s leading civilian party had won 83 per cent of the house’s total available seats.
The military straight up refused to accept the mandate of the elections and acknowledge another term of Ms Suu Kyi’s rule. The results were widely seen as a symbol of approval on the soaring popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi as the leader of the National League for Democracy. Ms Suu Kyi had also been crowned as the first and de facto civilian leader of Myanmar since she emerged victorious in the General Elections of 2015.
The Coup D’état Unravels
The possibility of a highly anticipated coup emerged soon after the military forces, which had already ineffectually petitioned in the country’s top tier grievance redressal concourse, the Supreme Court, to plead that the results generated through these elections were utterly fraudulent, had threatened to “take strict action” as a sign of protest. They went on to heavily surround the houses of the Parliament with a lot of soldiers and army men.
It wasn’t long before the storm took over and the military men detained several leaders and politicians of the National League for Democracy along with some other civilian officials, including the premier, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi as well as President U Win Myint. Other detainees comprised of the chief ministers of numerous regions, cabinet ministers, leaders of the opposition parties, activists, journalists and writers.
The military coup was cogently announced publicly on the Myawaddy TV station, a military-owned channel. A news presenter effectively cited the Constitution of 2008, which allows the country’s military to declare and impose a national emergency. The state of emergency, he mentioned, shall remain in place for one whole year. Certainly, this coercive imposition didn’t go down well with a large group of people and they refused to abide by this military-driven command.
Much like any other new totalitarian government, the military was quick to seize control of the entire nation’s infrastructure, temporarily suspending almost all television broadcasts and cancelling international and domestic flights. Internet access and telephone were halted in all the major cities. The commercial banks and stock market were closed, and long lines could be witnessed outside ATMs in some places. In Yangon, the former capital and Myanmar’s largest city residents stocked up on food and hoarded other essential supplies.
A Display of Resistance and the Military’s Response
After weeks of protesting relatively peacefully, the demonstrations quickly turned deadly after 20th February when two of the unarmed protestors were brutally killed by security forces in the Burmese city of Mandalay, one of whom was a young 16-year-old boy. The deaths came in precedence of a country-wide general strike on 22nd February when millions of people all across the land took to the streets to express resistance against the establishment.
Since then, a bolstered pro-democratic civil disobedience movement had completely paralyzed the banking system of Myanmar and made it extremely difficult for the army to get much done. As the highly publicised demonstrations entered their second month, the military turned all the more violent in its approach. Week after week, the armed forces escalated their retaliation towards the demonstrators. This included the toll from the bloodiest and most violent crackdown to date, on the 27th of March when the military had killed close to 600 people and detained, tortured or assaulted thousands of others.
The desperation and boldness of such a united armed front recalled the radicalization of a former generation of pro-democracy activists in the state of Myanmar, who traded various treatises written on political philosophy for arms and guns. As in the past, a troop of hard-line opposition has proven to be a dynamic defensive response to the army’s ever-expanding reign of terror. The remnants of the banished Parliament, who were ruthlessly ousted by the military called for a revolution and hinted at the possibility of creating a new federal army.
Releasing the Prisoners- An Attempt at Truce?
In October, Myanmar’s army junta has released over 5,600 people in an amnesty for all those who were arrested for demonstrating against or otherwise resisting or displaying dissent over the military’s forceful seizure of power earlier in February. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who was at the helm of the February coup d’état and has since acted as a self-proclaimed head of a new “caretaker government,” announced to the public the amnesty through a televised address. State television claimed that 1,316 convicts arrested for anti-coup activities would be released and 4,320 others with a pending trial will have their charges suspended.
The prisoner release included several well-known politicians like Monywa Aung Shin, who acted as the Information minister in the National League for Democracy government, in addition to several film actors, celebrities and journalists. This decision also raised some eyebrows and many were forced to question the humanitarian intentions behind this move as it coincided with the verdict of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to exclude Min Aung Hlaing, the army general who has ruled Myanmar ever since the February coup from its forthcoming summit.
Another red flag that could be witnessed in this whole procedure was the re-arrest of quite a few detainees with new charges at the prison gate. However, the prison amnesties are without a doubt a welcome development. To that end, they have reunited communities and families that had been mercilessly fractured by the army’s disastrous and violent seizure of power. In the longer term, the International community must act in the interest of the public of Myanmar to ensure that no more innocent deaths are recorded.
Written by- Isha Singh
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