Myanmar’s military has taken control of the country after Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders were arrested in the early hours.
Hours after the arrests, military TV confirmed a state of emergency had been declared for one year. The coup comes after tensions rose between the civilian government and the military following a disputed election. Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the military until democratic reforms began in 2011. The military said on Monday it was handing power to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Soldiers are on the streets of the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and the main city, Yangon.
In November’s election, Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won enough seats to form a government. The army says the vote was fraudulent. The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says the coup appears to be a clear violation of the constitution drafted by the military more than a decade ago, and which it promised to honour only on Saturday. Detaining political leaders like Ms Suu Kyi is a provocative and very risky move, one which may well be strongly opposed, our correspondent says. The United States has condemned the coup, saying Washington “opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the release of all government officials and civil society leaders and said the US “stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development. The military must reverse these actions immediately.” In Australia, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said “we call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and other who have been detained unlawfully.”
John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said: “The military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades never really stepped away from power in the first place.” “They never really submitted to civilian authority in the first place, so today’s events in some sense are merely revealing a political reality that already existed.” “The doors just opened to a very different future,” Thant Myint-U, Yangon-based historian and author described the outlook. “I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next.” “And remember Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic and religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”
Mobile internet data connections and some phone services have been disrupted in major cities, while the state broadcaster MRTV says it is having technical issues and is off air. Communications with Nay Pyi Taw are down and it is difficult to assess the situation there. In the country’s largest city and former capital Yangon, phone lines and internet appears to be limited, with many providers cutting their services. There are reports that people in Yangon are rushing to get money from ATMs amid expectations of a cash crunch in the coming days, some ATMs already appear to not be working and it’s unclear whether banks will open. The NLD won 83% of available seats in the 8 November election in what many saw as a referendum on Ms Suu Kyi’s civilian government.
It was just the second election since the end of military rule in 2011, but the military has disputed the result, filing complaints at the Supreme Court against the president and the chair of the electoral commission. Fears of a coup rose after the military recently threatened to “take action” over alleged fraud, the election commission has rejected the allegations. Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San. He was assassinated when she was only two years old, just before Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948. Ms Suu Kyi was once seen as a beacon for human rights – a principled activist who gave up her freedom to challenge the ruthless army generals who ruled Myanmar for decades.
In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while still under house arrest, and hailed as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”. Ms Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010. In November 2015 she led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election for 25 years. The Myanmar constitution forbids her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals. But Ms Suu Kyi, now 75, is widely seen as de facto leader, but since becoming Myanmar’s state counsellor, her leadership has been defined by the treatment of the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority. In 2017 hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state.
Ms Suu Kyi’s former international supporters accused her of doing nothing to stop rape, murder and possible genocide by refusing to condemn the still powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities. A few initially argued that she was a pragmatic politician, trying to govern a multi-ethnic country with a complex history, but her personal defence of the army’s actions at the International Court of Justice hearing in 2019 in the Hague was seen as a new turning point that obliterated what little remained of her international reputation. At home, however, “the Lady”, as Ms Suu Kyi is known, remains wildly popular among the Buddhist majority who hold little sympathy for the Rohingya.