Burma has woke up with a picture very similar to that of half a century ago: soldiers and tanks patrolling the main cities of the country. In the capital, Naipyidó, telephone lines and internet access were cut, as well as the signal on state television.
A few hours later, on Army-owned television, they announced a state of emergency for a year and promised “pluralist, free and equal” elections when this period ends . The military has seized power and top political leaders who have ruled since 2015, such as the popular State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, have been detained.
It is difficult for a country to embrace a complete democracy if the remnants of its former military dictatorship, protected by a young Constitution, have a quarter of all the seats in Parliament and, by decree, the Army is in control of the Defense ministries , Interior and Border Affairs.
After being under the yoke of a military junta from 1962 to 2010, Burma tried to be a democracy. Or, at least, something quite similar to it. A priori, it was a good sign that the former political prisoners who raised the pro-democracy movement to fight against the dictatorship were those who occupied the political summit of the new era.
On top of that, it would be a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi , who spent almost 15 years in detention, who would lead that change. The first problem came when those revolutionaries, once in power, bet on continuing with repression and censorship in a weak system, whose 2008 Constitution gives the military the ability to declare a state of emergency and assume state power. .
The international reputation of Suu Kyi (75 years old), leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the ruling party, collapsed in the face of her silence over the crackdown on the Rohingya that scandalized the world.
For the leader they are “simple problems” what for the UN is an “ethnic cleansing” that left almost a million refugees four years ago. Suu Kyi even supported the military when they were accused of committing genocide in 2017.
In Burma, what many predicted since the last November elections has happened : a military coup. Suu Kyi proclaimed a landslide victory for the NLD in the elections, taking the absolute majority, with 396 seats in the Legislative Assembly of the 476 that were in dispute.
However, the opposition , led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (PSDU), with the support of the military – who control 25% of the 664 seats in the upper and lower chambers – rejected the results for alleged “electoral fraud” .
In mid-January, in Burma, tanks began to circulate through the streets of Rangoon, the country’s largest city. They began to speak of a possible military coup. Something that the head of the Army, General Min Aung Hlaing , supported last week , assuring that it could not be ruled out that the military would take command.
The situation began to have many parallels with the first coup of 1962. Although, according to military sources in the country, when the state of emergency ends, in February 2022, new elections will be held that “will return state power to a new government “. Before that happens, the military will “reform the electoral commission and review the results of the parliamentary elections.”
There has been no official statement on the reasons for the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, and other politicians from her democratically elected ruling party at the polls. A massive raid hours before the new Parliament was constituted and the deputies sat in their seats during the first session.
Right at the time of her arrest, Suu Kyi would have asked the citizens not to remain silent in the face of what was happening . “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the military coup,” says a statement posted on social networks by the National League for Democracy (LND). But what has been seen on the streets of cities like Rangoon has been supporters of the military celebrating it and waving national flags.
An LND spokesperson, Myo Nyunt, explains by mail to this newspaper that, in addition to Suu Kyi and the president, the party’s ministers, representing more than a dozen states and the president, were also detained “with violence and at gunpoint”. regions of the country were arrested at gunpoint. “Without a doubt it is a military coup, but to draw definitive conclusions, we must wait for the negotiations between our politicians and the military,” Nyunt says.
After the declaration of the state of emergency, the power of the state will pass into the hands of General Min Aung Hlaing, who will take control of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. The position of interim president will be held by Myint Swe, a former general who currently served as vice president.
The military insist that in the last elections they found “8.6 million cases of fraud” and have demanded that the electoral commission publish the lists of voters for verification. This body, however, says there is no evidence to support its claims.
“The military junta that ruled Burma for decades never left power in the first place,” John Sifton, Asia defense director at Human Rights Watch, said Monday. “In the first place, they never really submitted to civil authority, so today’s events in a sense only reveal a political reality that already existed.”
Monday morning’s arrests don’t just include political leaders. According to Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu wrote on Twitter, student activists were also arrested in the raids. In VICE News they have collected the statements of an activist, Thinzar Shunle Yi, who claims that they have arrested several of her friends.
“We woke up this morning with the blow. Everything has just begun. Telephone lines and some television channels are down. We are not sure what will come next,” says Thinzar.
The actions of the military have been widely condemned internationally. “We urge the armed forces and all other parties to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, and to release those detained today,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement from Washington, adding that The United States “will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”
In Thailand, there have been clashes between the police and protesters against the neighboring country’s coup. At least two people were injured, according to Reuters, in the protest outside the Burmese embassy in the Thai capital, in which at least 200 people gathered. The police also arrested two people.
Many governments in the European Union – Burma’s third most important trading partner – have condemned the military takeover . “We ask for the immediate release of all those detained and to reestablish the democratic process,” said Spanish President Pedro Sánchez. The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has spoken out calling for “democracy to prevail” in the Asian country that has already spent five decades under the shadow of a bloody dictatorship.
The UN has also ruled in a statement : “The general elections of November 8, 2020 give a strong mandate to the National League for Democracy (NLD), which reflects the clear will of the people of Burma to continue on the path hard-won from democratic reform. Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) urges military leaders to respect the will of the Burmese people and adhere to democratic norms, and any differences must be resolved through peaceful dialogue. ”
From Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said her government “has long supported Burma and its democratic transition.” Payne has called on the military to ” immediately release all civilian leaders and others who have been illegally detained . ”
From neighboring China , on the other hand, they have been more restrained. “We hope that all parties in Burma can properly handle differences under the constitutional and legal framework and safeguard political and social stability,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Beijing Foreign Ministry.
After what happened in Burma, all international analysts agree on a point in common: since the first democratic elections in 2015, the military realized that the parties they supported were never going to get enough support to govern. Suu Kyi’s charisma continued to attract the most votes.
The Nobel laureate had renounced her ethical principles and remained silent while the Army persecuted the Rohingya minority. But not even his collusion with the loopholes of the military dictatorship have served him to maintain the democratic system for which he fought so hard in his country.