Myanmar formerly known as Burma gained independence in late 1940s. During the year 1937, under the colonial rule, Burma was separated from India by the Britain and it was made the “crown colony” before it was invaded by the Japanese till the very day of independence. Hence the state is totally and wholly the product of colonialism.[i] Since independence the political culture of the state has witnessed many ups and downs. State has majorly been run by the military rulers. Burma was renamed “Myanmar” during the military rule in the year 1989, and in the beginning major democracies like US and UK were not happy about the development. This resulted in referring the state as “this country” while cautiously calling it Burma, the old name.[ii] It was hard for democracies to refer the state as “Myanmar”. The new name was the endowment of the military rule.[iii]
The political culture of Myanmar is a constant struggle between autocracy and democracy which reflects every now and then in the stunted economy, growth and development of the state.[iv] Political economy of the state suffered massively mainly because of the isolationist economic policies which were in practice for years and then there were other ethnic conflicts seeking separatism.[v] Many a times to control the outbreak of civil war military had to intervene in order to manage the severe separatist threat which the civilian administration can’t handle no more.[vi]
The constitution of the state is drafted in a way, giving military the major controlling hands and power in the whole democratization process. This was well taken care of in the 2008 constitution of the state which was drafted by the military junta, led by Senior General Than Shwe.[vii] Article 436, promises the military one-quarter of the seats in the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and one-third of the seats in the state/regional parliaments. In addition, because constitutional amendments must receive more than 75 percent of the vote in parliament, the military’s mandated 25 percent presence gives it effective veto power over any proposed changes.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won the majority seats in general elections 2020. The year 2020, witnessed the second general elections of the state, straight in a row under the civilian rule which is a huge win for the state’s democratization process. Aung San Suu Kyi had the landslide victory in 2015 but the constitution restricted her path to presidency as her children are foreign born. In 2020 again her party won the landslide majority with even more votes than the previous general elections. This showed the increase in NLD’s popularity and the recognition of the democracy.[viii] The rising political participation of population that too in the favour of NLD was the propagating threat for the Military which might later led to the existential crisis for the military’s participation in political affairs of the state. With this cognizance the Military come up with certain reasons to overthrow the government. The events showed that the coup was well planned and choreographed beforehand.
According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar general elections 2020 were flawed because of the marginalization of Rohingya and some other issues.[ix] NLD won 396 seats while the leading opposition party USDP only managed to get some 33 seats out of 476. Military leaders suspected voters fraud. The election commission rejected the claim which resulted in staged military coup, leading to the house arrest of the Aung San Suu Kyi and other prominent leaders. This time things are different, population is conscious of their legal and political rights and the democratic process. Military is facing constant resistance by the population; the internet is down, with each and every perk of autocracy the state is back to the isolation. Following the coup imposed on the February 1, 2021 people turned to streets and certain anti-coup demonstrations erupted. The demonstrators surely faced resistance. More than 50 people have been killed since the 1st of February. According to the United Nations the bloodiest day was the first Wednesday of March with at least 38 deaths.[x]
People have tasted the palate of democracy for a good amount of time. It’s very difficult at their end to adjust to another military rule. They have already showed their will through the polling results of 2020 that they want to be democratically ruled by NLD.[xi] After five decades of military rule, the decade of democracy and freedom in the state has given people all kinds of energy to resist any oppression in coming years. Even though during the democratic regimes military had a fair share in law making and enforcing.[xii] Keeping the record of the autocracy and its play in state politics in concentration it’s hard to say (just weeks after the coup) how long the promised one year coup can last. The military rule may end as promised or it may engulf the coming decades affecting the growth and development potential of the state.
[i] International Crisis Group, “Myanmar: The Military Regime’s View of the World,” December 7, 2001, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/myanmar-military-regimes-view-world
[iii] Andrew Selth, “What’s in a Name: Burma or Myanmar?,” USIP, June 21, 2018, https://www.usip.org/blog/2018/06/whats-name-burma-or-myanmar
[iv]Lee Jones, “Explaining Myanmar’s regime transition: the periphery is central,” January 28, 2014, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13510347.2013.863878
[v]Lindsay Maizland, “Myanmar’s Troubled History: Coups, Military Rule, and Ethnic Conflict,” Council on forein relations, February 9, 2021, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/myanmar-history-coup-military-rule-ethnic-conflict-rohingya
[vi] Jones, “Explaining Myanmar’s regime in transition.”
[vii] Vikram Nehru, “Myanmar’s Military Keeps Firm Grip on Democratic Transition,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2, 2015, https://carnegieendowment.org/2015/06/02/myanmar-s-military-keeps-firm-grip-on-democratic-transition-pub-60288
[viii] BBC, “Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar democracy icon who fell from grace,” March 6, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977
[ix] Maizland, “Myanmar’s Troubled History.”
[x] Deutsche Welle, “Myanmar: Defiant anti-coup movement returns to streets,” March 6, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/myanmar-defiant-anti-coup-movement-returns-to-streets/a-56793573
[xii] Sana Jaffrey, “End of Myanmar’s Rocky Road to Democracy?,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/02/02/end-of-myanmar-s-rocky-road-to-democracy-pub-83774