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  • Yukta Malik

Myanmar’s Battle for Democracy

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

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Yukta Malik

‘Independence’ is a complicated concept for the people of Myanmar. 73 years ago, their country became independent from British rule, only to face chaos from the diplomats within. The first turmoil began with a coup in 1962 that ended democracy and established complete military rule in the country. For over 50 years, several protests took place and thousands of people died in order to restore democracy. Finally, after a struggle that spanned decades, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, named ‘National League for Democracy (NLD)’, was elected into power in the 2015 general election. But challenges don’t seem to end for Myanmar as its people find themselves in a year-long state of emergency and under military control, yet again.

On 1 February 2021, a new session in the Myanmar parliament was set to open after the general elections, in which the NLD had won by acquiring 83% of the votes. The Opposition claimed this number to be a scam and demanded a recount, which seemed fair at the time. However, the situation escalated when the military united with the Opposition and planned a coup against the democratically-elected party. They marched into the parliament on the first day of the session and arrested party members, charging them with election fraud. Suu Kyi and several other party members were detained and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power.

In the past two and a half months, more than 700 people have been killed as the military has ordered the forces to shoot protestors. Several men and women from the police force have fled to Mizoram, leaving their families back home because they refuse to hurt their own people in rallies. In interviews conducted with these refugees, they revealed how sticks, rubber bullets, and tear gas are being used to round up protestors. They only have two choices: flee, or be arrested. As conditions worsened, many shopkeepers and business owners started fleeing to nearby countries. This loss of labor will massively impact Myanmar’s economy, which was already struggling under COVID-19 restrictions. The coup has introduced barriers in foreign investment projects, causing huge financial losses and a risk of draining all funds acquired by the country since 2011.

By arresting critics under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces, the military is effectively suppressing dissent. In resistance to this, the ousted members of the parliament, leaders of anti-coup protests, and ethnic minorities formed the ‘National Unity Government’ on 16 April in the hopes of gaining international support and recognition. The state of affairs in Myanmar is so intense that other nations are refraining from becoming a part of it. Even the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is divided on the decision to act or leave the matters as it is Myanmar’s ‘internal’ state of affairs. Although the US and European administration have passed a resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions and freeze the assets of military officials, any progress in the matter is unlikely, given that China and Russia can veto for their own strategic gains in the country.

The turmoil inside the boundaries of Myanmar might be a political issue that may or may not be resolved. But from a citizen’s perspective, it’s a destruction of livelihood, a constant state of fear that they have to live through every day. The military demands fair elections for now, but it’s uncertain whether they will stick to their schedule of year-long emergency or expand control for an indefinite period. Whatever the outcome is, one thing is certain, a lot of lives will be affected in establishing a rigid democracy in Myanmar.

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