James Brennan ’21
On February 1, 2021, the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar was overtaken by a military coup d’état that was years in the making. President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested and have remained under house arrest ever since. The incident has only grown more violent over the past few months, with regular clashes in the streets between protestors and the military that have left at least 748 dead.
Myanmar (also known as Burma) is a predominantly Buddhist country of 54 million that was a British colony until its independence in 1948. Since independence, it has been in a constant struggle between military dictatorships and proponents of civilian rule. In recent years, Myanmar’s path to democracy looked bright, as Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to be a leader brave enough to challenge the military’s power. The daughter of Myanmar’s colonial leader Gen. Aung San and a famous political figure in her own right, Ms. Suu Kyi served as Myanmar’s state counsellor, a loose equivalent to our prime minister.
This military coup follows Myanmar’s 2020 general election that saw Ms. Suu Kyi’s party—the National League for Democracy (NLD)—win a majority in the House of Representatives. Since 2011, the military had been somewhat detached from the federal government, acting as a separate entity while allowing the governing NLD to retain some amount of control. But that system crumbled entirely this year, as the military rounded up NLD members and installed military commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as the de facto leader for one year. After that, elections will supposedly be held, but their integrity is already in doubt.
In recent years, Ms. Suu Kyi’s reputation in the West has been tarnished due to accusations of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State. Beginning in 2017, the Burmese military organized raids against Rohingya villages, burning them to the ground and displacing their residents. Many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, but some remain. While Ms. Suu Kyi was once seen as a beacon of hope and democracy in a troubled nation, many questioned her actions. Even though she had little influence over the actions of the military, her denials of widely reported events in Rakhine raised eyebrows among Western leaders. Many even called for her Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked.
Despite her flaws, Ms. Suu Kyi might just be Myanmar’s best hope to reinstate democracy and bring peace to the country. But the situation is dire. Any attempt at resistance has been met with military force, and the international community isn’t in a position to influence Myanmar’s internal affairs. This military crackdown follows a pattern of similar actions taken by governments under the cover of the pandemic, including in Hong Kong, Belarus, Ethiopia, Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Uganda. Autocrats have decided the world would be too focussed on the pandemic to take action. But we must not let injustices go unnoticed anywhere. We must support the people of Myanmar in their fight for peace and democracy.
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