1 February 2021   Leave a comment

There has been a military coup in Myanmar (a state once known as Burma) and the civilian leader of the state, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been arrested. There was a national election on 8 November and Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won about 80 percent of the vote. The size of the vote apparently rattled the Myanmar military and the coup was led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing who embraced the claims of voter fraud by the opposition party backed by the military, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Myanmar has had a spotty political history. It was once a British colony and achieved its independence in 1948. But the military seized power in 1962 and maintained that role despite widespread political protests in 1988, 2003, and 2007, finally giving up power in 2011. Throughout these protests, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a powerful voice for civilian control, enduring many years of house arrest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for her steadfast support of democratic reforms. Her reputation has diminished in recent years as she sided with the brutal military repression of the Royingha minority group in Myanmar. That violence, fueled by the Buddhist majority’s fear of the Muslim Royingha, began in earnest in 2016 leading to the expulsion of thousands of Royingha to Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

I fear that the world will pay little attention to this coup because of the concerns about the domestic effects of the COVID pandemic. Vasuki Shastry, writing for The Guardian, outlines the possibilities for outside support for the democratic forces in Myanmar:

“The international community, led by G7 members, has issued obligatory statements condemning the army’s decision to stage a coup. Thailand has described the move as an “internal matter” and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members have called for restraint. The two countries with the greatest leverage on Myanmar – India and China – will be calibrating their response based on strategic considerations. India has called for the rule of law and democratic process to be upheld, perhaps calculating that army rule in the long-run is unsustainable. China is likely to take the Thai road by describing the developments as an internal matter. It is useful to remember that China was Myanmar’s only strategic economic and political partner during the dark era of Than Shwe’s rule. Democracy and civilian rule in Myanmar has not been kind to China, and Beijing will be eager to restore its status as the country’s indispensable partner. With China on its side, the army will find little reason to articulate a pathway toward a full restoration of democracy.”

The crisis in Myanmar is the first major international crisis for the Biden Administration and we will learn much from how President Biden addresses it. But Myanmar does not have a great influence on great power politics, so I am not optimistic about the US response.

Posted February 1, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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