This time round the Myanmar military is finding it difficult to handle the forced removal of a democratically elected government. The popular Aung San Suu Kyi has been the centre of public aspirations for decades and it is proving tedious to scrub her impression off from public memory. The military junta is extremely nonplussed about the public reaction to the coup it mounted and appears unnerved by the scathing international reaction. The military of Myanmar’s does not hold positive image in international circles particularly after the Rohingya crisis and its past is equally despicable.
Even after a week after the military coup, thousands of anti-coup protesters in Myanmar poured back onto the streets as an internet blackout failed to stifle growing outrage at the military’s ouster of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The fresh rally followed the largest protests to date when tens of thousands came out in cities across the country to condemn the coup that brought a 10-year experiment with democracy to a crashing halt. Thousands of chanting protesters marched in Yangon, backed by a din of car horns. They held up banners — including some saying “We do not want military dictatorship” — and the signature red flags of Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party. The authorities deployed riot police over the weekend as thousands protested but no major clashes have been reported though the tensions have refused to abate.
Protesters have taken to the streets in cities and towns in the largest demonstrations in Myanmar for more than a decade against the 1 February military coup that ousted the elected government of veteran democracy campaigner, Aung San Suu Kyi. The unrest has revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, and spasms of bloody protests against it, until the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011.
Myanmar police used force to disperse protests against military rule and one woman was in critical condition and not expected to survive after being shot in the head with a bullet. Police fired guns, mostly into the air, and used water cannon and rubber bullets to try to clear protesters in the capital and four people were taken to hospital with what doctors initially said they believed were wounds caused by rubber bullets. One of the injured protestor is a woman who had suffered a most likely a fatal head wound as the bullet could be seen lodged in her in an X-ray and the doctors said it was a live bullet. A man had a chest wound but was not in critical condition. It was not clear if he was hit with a bullet or rubber bullet.
Promises from junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election in his first address since seizing power drew scorn. He repeated unproven accusations of fraud in the election. Min Aung Hlaing said the junta would form a true and disciplined democracy, different to previous eras of military rule, which brought years of isolation and poverty. He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency would last one year. State media signaled possible action against the protests when it said the public wanted rid of “wrongdoers”. Orders banning gatherings of more than four people and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. have been imposed on Yangon and Mandalay. On the other hand activists are also seeking the abolition of a 2008 constitution drawn up under military supervision that gave the generals a veto in parliament and control of several ministries, and for a federal system in ethnically diverse Myanmar.
The possibility of recurrence in agitation appears to be real and the prospects of long-drawn protests look probable. The public sentiment is to move forward and keep demanding until democracy is restored. Some flashed the three-finger salute inspired by the “Hunger Games” films and used as a symbol of resistance by pro-democracy protesters in Thailand last year.
Online calls to protest the army takeover have prompted bold displays of defiance, including the nightly deafening clamour of people around the country banging pots and pans — a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil spirits. Yangon residents repeated the pot-banging at 8 am and continued doing so. The platform had hosted a rapidly growing “Civil Disobedience Movement” forum that had inspired civil servants, healthcare professionals, and teachers to show their dissent by boycotting their jobs.
The surge in popular dissent over the weekend overrode a nationwide blockade of the internet, similar in magnitude to an earlier shutdown that coincided with the arrest of Suu Kyi and other senior leaders. As protests gathered steam this week, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication. On Sunday, a live Facebook video feed showed the Yangon protesters as they marched through the streets, as well as police in riot personnel standing by in some locations. It was not immediately clear how the broadcast was bypassing the government block. The military had widened its efforts to quell organised dissent when it demanded new blocks on other social media services including Twitter. It was reported that the generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance and trying to keep the outside world in the dark by cutting virtually all internet access.
An immensely popular figure despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup but a party spokesman said that she was under house arrest and in good health. Two days after her ouster, criminal charges were filed against her related to the illegal import of a set of walkie-talkies. The military had flagged its coup intentions days in advance, insisting that the NLD’s landslide victory in the November elections was the result of voter fraud. The army’s favoured parties were trounced in the ballot. Following the takeover, the junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency after which it promised to hold fresh elections, without offering any precise timeframe.
The coup has been widely condemned by the international community, with US President Joe Biden leading calls for the generals to relinquish power and release those arrested in the post-coup crackdown. Western governments have widely condemned the coup, although there has been little concrete action to press the generals. New Zealand has suspended all high-level political and military contact and will ensure aid does not benefit the military and impose a travel ban on its leaders.
The U.N. Security Council has called for the release of Suu Kyi and others. The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest. The 75-year-old faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in detention until 15 February. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her. The U.S. State Department said it tried to reach her but was denied. The international reaction is growing by the day and it is a matter of time before a serious joint action is undertaken that may prove detrimental to the adventure of the Myanmar military junta. TW