Myanmar Coup: What Is Happening and Why?

ASIA--PACIFIC, 8 Feb 2021

Alice Cuddy | BBC News - TRANSCEND Media Service

2 Feb 2021 – Myanmar hit headlines around the world on Monday [1 Feb] when its military seized control.

The country’s leader, [Nobel Peace Laureate] Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her party are thought to be under house arrest.

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is in Southeast Asia and neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India.

It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom speak Burmese, although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw.

The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including the Rohingya Muslims.

The ruling military changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands of people were killed in a crackdown on a popular uprising.

The country was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.

What has happened now, and why?

The military has once more taken over the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency.

It seized control following a general election which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.

The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a re-run of the vote, claiming widespread fraud.

The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims.

The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.

Who is in charge now?

The military says that power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

He has long wielded significant political influence, successfully maintaining the power of the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – even as the country transitioned towards democracy.

Min Aung Hlaing, pictured in 2018
Min Aung Hlaing is the leader of the coup. Getty Images

He has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities.

The military has already replaced numerous ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi became world-famous in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy in Myanmar.

She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010 after organising rallies calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991.

In 2015, she led her NLD party to victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi attends a meeting on September 1, 2020
Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in September 2020. Getty Images

What about the crackdown on Rohingya?

Ms Suu Kyi’s international reputation has suffered greatly as a result of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority group.

Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Over decades, many have fled to escape persecution.

Thousands of Rohingyas were killed and more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh following an army crackdown in 2017.

Ms Suu Kyi appeared before the International Court of Justice in 2019, where she denied the military had committed genocide.

What has the international reaction been?

The EU, UK and United Nations are among those to have condemned the military takeover.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the “vote of the people must be respected”.

US President Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions on Myanmar.

But not everyone has reacted in this way.

China, which has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides in the country to “resolve differences”. Its Xinhua news agency described the changes as a “cabinet reshuffle”.

Other countries in the region, including Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, have said it is an “internal matter”.

What could happen now?

Ms Suu Kyi has urged her supporters to “protest against the coup”, but the streets of Myanmar are quiet.

People walk next to the Sule Pagoda on an empty road in central Yangon on February 1, 2021
Streets in Yangon are empty following the coup. Getty Images

An NLD politician told the AP news agency the party was not planning street protests, but working to “settle the problem peacefully”.

Medics working in government hospitals are reported as saying they will stop work this week to push for the release of Ms Suu Kyi. Pictures on social media show some wearing black ribbons in protest.


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One Response to “Myanmar Coup: What Is Happening and Why?”

  1. rosemerry says:

    As always, the “West” is against the coup when it is not the military they support who carry it out. Has the West tried to stop the takeover of Brazil by the present “government”, or Honduras in 2009, or the vicious actions of Mr Modi in India, or the kidnapping and destruction of Julian Assange in the UK??? Did it stop the overthrow or even protest against it in Bolivia when Evo Morales had just won the election? No, it picks a random dude in Venezuela and pretends he should rule, after twenty years of ensuring the people’s choice in Venezuela was “a dictator”. The “democratic West” support a petty fraudster in Russia and pretends, as in the UK in 2018, that Pres. Putin poisoned him with novichok!!!
    We should try to help people when possible, but our decisions are not always correct and/or may not be possible or desirable. It is easy to protest what someone else does.