Even as the warning signs of a military coup aimed at overthrowing the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi have multiplied in recent days, some diplomats and analysts who professionally follow Myanmar were still ignoring them.
Tame the Covid-19 the pandemic and reviving the country’s economy were seen as priorities for both the civilian government and the military, many of whose members have important business interests.
Despite growing tensions between the military and his five-year government, Aung San Suu Kyi was widely seen as an unwritten defender – if not an ally – of the generals, having personally defended Myanmar’s military crackdown on the Rohingya minority in 2019 at the International Court of Justice.
But on Monday morning, that narrative collapsed after the military arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and many other central and local government figures from his National League for Democracy and seized power, alleging “terrible fraud” in the process. elections last year.
Monday’s coup surprised most observers and abruptly replaced Aung San Suu Kyi in the role she was known for during her years in opposition, before taking office in 2016: a struggling Democratic leader facing an omnipotent army.
“The international community has repeatedly been wrong about Myanmar,” said Aaron Connelly, Southeast Asia specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“We were wrong in the late 2000s when we thought that the military did not intend to transfer its authority to a civilian government; we were wrong about Aung San Suu Kyi and his authoritarian tendencies and attitudes towards ethnic minorities; and it seems we got it wrong on that as well.
Monday, the ruler of Myanmar urged his supporters, via a statement by the NLD, “not to accept the coup” and take to the streets to protest.
It brought back dark memories of nearly five decades of military rule in the country and Aung San Suu Kyi’s own past as a political prisoner who spent years under house arrest before leading Myanmar’s first democratically elected government. since General Ne Win’s coup in 1962.
“The international community was and is aware of the civil-military tensions,” said Moe Thuzar, Myanmar Studies Program Coordinator at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “But there was a general thought that the current situation – the global climate, the pandemic, the needs for economic recovery – might have been limiting factors for such a development at this time.
She added: “Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t seem to apply here.”
While the military crackdown on the Rohingya people – and criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn them – dominated his first term and framed many international discussions over Myanmar, unresolved conflicts with the military have worsened.
The NLD came to power five years ago after an election held under a 2008 constitution in which the military ensured civilian control by reserving three government departments and a quarter of parliamentary seats for itself. The government’s efforts to push for constitutional reforms in parliament failed because the party could not muster the 75% majority needed for the amendments.
During the November election campaign, the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development party began to denounce massive electoral fraud and irregularities, and refused to acknowledge the result – a landslide victory for the Union. NLD to the seats it was authorized to contest.
When the military last week refused to rule out a coup, some in Myanmar were alarmed, and Western embassies and the UN warned against any attempt to alter the election outcome.
But military leader Min Aung Hlaing seemed move back of that threat on Saturday, saying the military would respect the constitution.
On Monday, it became clear what the military meant by that. The military said its order complied with article 417 of the constitution, which allowed the president to declare a state of emergency for one year in circumstances that could “disintegrate the union or disintegrate solidarity. national ”.
The military said there will be another election and the winning party will be transferred to power.
“It was terrible to see this train coming in the opposite direction for the past two days,” said Laetitia van den Assum, former Netherlands Ambassador to Myanmar and member of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Committee on Rakhine State. “But if you look at Saturday’s statement, it was all there.”
The international community, including Joe Biden’s new US administration, had to respond on Monday to the abruptly derailed democratic transition in a country seen as a strategically important border between India and China. Condemns for the coup have poured in from the White House, Europe, the UN and Australia.
The reactions of other Asian countries were more reserved. In neighboring Thailand, whose military has close ties to the Tatmadaw, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan called the coup a “domestic problem.”
India, of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, said it was “steadfast” in supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition and that the rule of law and the democratic process must be respected.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry described Myanmar as a “friendly neighbor” and said it hoped to “handle the situation within the framework of the constitution and the law, and maintain political and social stability.”
But as the Tatmadaw seized power, analysts said he would face a more ruthless international climate for the military regime than during past repressions.
“We are not in 1962 or 1988,” Ms. Thuzar said. “The global political and economic climate will be very unfavorable for a military junta seeking to justify its actions.”
Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in New Delhi and Eli Meixler in Hong Kong