On February 1st, a successful military coup took place in South Asia. The national military of Myanmar arrested top non-military officials and seized all power. While this February coup happened in South Asia, it could have happened on our very shores. Myanmar’s successful military coup d’état took place almost a month after the unsuccessful January 6th attack on the US Capitol.
The similarities lie in the fact that both hinged on one group declaring democratic election results as fraudulent. Myanmar held its largest democratic election in November 2020. The Myanmar government is Parliamentary structured. Elections determine the majority party which will form a government; a party needs to ensure 221 seats in the House of Representatives and 113 in the House of Nationalities. The important thing to note is that Myanmar has had a history of military dictatorship which while democracy was introduced after regaining independence from England, the military is allotted a certain number of guaranteed seats in both houses. The National League of Democracy (NLD) swept all levels of the election. The NLD won 258 House of Representative seats and 138 House of Nationalities seats on top of winning all States and all Regional elections. These results set up the NLD to be the ruling party. Regardless of the allocated seats, the military party no longer would be the controlling majority, nor did they even gain extra seats from the election.
The NLD has long pushed for true democracy. The NLD was created in 1988 by Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi is the current President of the NLD, the State Counsellor, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was arrested on February 1st along with other top government leaders. Aung San Suu Kyi does carry problematic issues paired with her long-standing political service.
She is the daughter of Myanmar’s celebrated “Father of the Nation” General Aung San. She was arrested during another successful military coup in 1989 and held under various forms of house arrest for the next 21 years. In November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was formally released from house arrest. She won a seat in Parliament in 2012. She would also be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to democracy and non-violence.
She was elected the State Counsellor in 2016. This is where things get murky. Aung San Suu Kyi, her political party, and the acting government did nothing to stop the military enforced genocide of the Rohingya population.
The Rohingya are Muslim whereas the prominent religion of Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism. She has refused to call it genocide, ethnic cleansing, and state sponsored murder.
She has gone on recorded as stated that she does not believe that the Rohingya should be considered citizens of Myanmar even though Islam has been practiced in Myanmar since the 9th Century. Her leadership and the lack of aid from the NLD is shameful. Her failings to right the wrongs that have seen thousands of murders, rapes, and torture is hard to rectify. The shortcomings of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD does need to be answered for alongside the accountability and punishment of the military regimes that enacted the Rohingya genocide.
And just when you thought it could not be more complicated, the leading general who ordered and participated in the Rohingya genocide is Min Aung Hlaing. Min Aung Hlaing became the Commander-in-chief of Defense Services in 2011 which would then oversee the genocide. Min Aung Hlaing initiated the military coup of February 1st and has since declared a year long military state of emergency placing himself as the ruling leader of Myanmar.
Now Min Aung Hlaing is on the verge of turning 65, this is important as Myanmar has a mandatory military retirement age of 65. He would have been forced to resign this year from his position. With the resignation, Min Aung Hlaing would have become subject to International War Crimes. Min Aung Hlaing and many of his family members own and operate the two main national military businesses. The NLD has been very public in their plans to review the contracts, perform in-depth audits, and threaten termination. So, while the running official statement from Myanmar is that the 2020 election was fraudulent, the underbelly is ladened with military, corporate, and personal corruption.
As of today, over 610 people and 43 children have been killed by the military, thousands have been injured, arrested, and countless more have ‘disappeared’. The military was swift in action in the early days of February. The military shut down telephone lines, internet, broadcasting, and grounded domestic and international flights. As more and more citizens started to become aware of the actions of Feb. 1st, they took to the streets in large protests.
On Feb. 20th, thousands were gathered to protest the military coup when two unarmed peaceful protestors were killed; one of which was a 16-year-old young man. Two days later, millions took to the streets to protest. And protests have continued despite the escalating violence and pressure by the military. March 27th saw the deadliest protests yet. 550 people were killed by the military, thousands were rounded up and have been subjected to torture. In the last week, reports have been leaked that famous celebrities have been arrested for their roles in supporting the protest. Actor and model Paing Takhon was forcibly removed from his residence two weeks after he posted photos of the protests. His sister has stated that he has since contracted Malaria while being imprisoned.
The global response has been quite frankly lacking. The prominent response is for leaders to address issues on ensuring fair and free elections. The Biden Administration has stated they will be issuing sanctions to Myanmar but other then that, the military forces of Myanmar have continued to impose devastating force onto its people.
As I write this, the protests are continuing yet the seemingly immovable force of the military has not budged.
Please dear readers, contact your local representatives, your congresspeople, tweet the Biden Administration, submit a request to the UN. Below I have included a few resources:
Save the Children Organization :https://myanmar.savethechildren.net/
International Rescue Fund: https://www.rescue.org/country/myanmar
Islamic Relief USA: https://irusa.org/asia/myanmar/
United Nations: https://news.un.org/en/tags/myanmar
Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/myanmar/
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is fully vaccinated but is still hunkering down during this pandemic and hopes all that reads this are safe and well. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She is focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid reader of both academic and fictional works.