Engineers, doctors and even exotic pet owners have come together in opposition to the military coup for what are now Myanmar’s widest protests in three decades. We asked Crisis Group’s senior adviser on Myanmar, Richard Horsey, to talk about what's happening and why.
Military staged coup d’état following escalating tensions with civilian govt over Nov election. Following Nov polls which saw landslide election victory for ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), military late month demanded postponement of new parliament due to convene in capital Naypyitaw on 1 Feb; asked for delay while allegations of electoral malpractice investigated; govt refused after Union Election Commission rejected fraud allegations and international observers called poll a success. Military 31 Jan said “Tatmadaw categorically denies it is impeding Myanmar’s democratic transition”; early morning 1 Feb seized power as it declared one-year state of emergency, imposed communications blackout and detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other senior NLD figures, as well as cabinet ministers and civil society representatives; office of Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlain same day announced that military would name new election commission and hold fresh elections. Previously, tensions mounted as Tatmadaw and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) throughout month made unsubstantiated claims that there were over ten million errors in electoral lists and equating them with fraud. Group of 203 opposition and military MPs 11 Jan signed request for Speaker of Union parliament to convene special session to discuss electoral disputes; speaker next day refused request, said parliament had no authority over elections; military statement 14 Jan suggested that speaker’s decision was unconstitutional. USDP 14 Jan convened more than 1,000 demonstrators against election commission’s conduct of polls in Mandalay Region’s Pyawbwe township. Meanwhile, Commander-in-Chief’s office 7 Jan called for elections to be held in remaining townships of Rakhine and Shan State where Nov poll was cancelled on security grounds; Zaw Htay next day stated delayed vote could not be held since military had not provided security guarantees. Informal ceasefire in Rakhine State continued to hold. Following meetings between Arakan Army (AA) and military, AA 1 Jan released three NLD election candidates previously held hostage since Oct. Speaking as chairperson of National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, Aung San Suu Kyi 1 Jan said constitutional amendment to establish democratic federal union was “absolutely necessary”.
Myanmar’s military overthrew its newly elected parliament on 1 February, halting the country’s democratic transition and sparking massive protests. External actors should cooperate to prevent a violent crackdown and adopt tailored measures that target coup leaders, without penalising the population or damaging the broader economy.
An informal ceasefire has created the best opportunity in two years to curb fighting between Myanmar and the Arakan Army, the ethnic Rakhine rebels in the country’s north. To seize it, all three of the military, civilian government and insurgency need to make significant concessions.
De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to win Myanmar’s 8 November elections. The next test will be whether the result entrenches minority grievances that fuel armed conflict or revives reform efforts to give minorities a fairer deal alongside the Burman Buddhist majority.
Ethnicity and conflict are tightly linked in Myanmar, as communal groups take up arms to press grievances for which they have found no other recourse. The problem calls for dialogue and deep reform, but meanwhile authorities can take smaller steps to indicate their positive intent.
The polls approaching in Myanmar are an opportunity for the government and ethnic armed groups to re-examine their positions in the country’s peace process. All parties should use the election-related hiatus to ask why talks have not succeeded and how to make them more productive.
Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is taking a rising toll. It will hinder any effort to contain COVID-19 or resolve the Rohingya crisis. Rather than trying to defeat the Arakan Army, Naypyitaw should negotiate with ethnic Rakhine, endeavouring to convince them of electoral democracy’s benefits.
As Myanmar starts to consolidate a system of electoral democracy after so many decades of authoritarianism, observers play a key role in giving the elections credibility.
[The drug trade] is a problem of the armed conflict in Myanmar [and] it is also a problem of corruption.
The overall impression is that Myanmar is being cautious about Chinese investment, especially ahead of elections planned later in the year.
[Aung San Suu Kyi] likely feels that she must do all she can to defend the national interest against what most people in Myanmar see as biased and politically-motivated charges.
The Pope was aware that inserting himself too strongly into a situation with a lot of religious undertones could inflame tensions further in Myanmar.
[Buddhist] monks feel the [Myanmar] government is weak on the protection of Buddhism and keeping the morals of the country intact.
On 1 February, Myanmar’s armed forces overthrew the country’s civilian leaders. International actors should make clear in word and deed that there will be no business as usual until the elected government is restored. If protests break out, the military should act with maximum restraint.
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The National League for Democracy is set to win a second term following Myanmar’s 8 November elections – its second competitive polls since absolute military rule ended in 2011. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey reflects on the implications for the country’s conflicts.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's briefing on Myanmar's 2020 elections