The Myanmar military has shot dead scores of citizens protesting the February 1 coup, with the state-run media decrying the actions of the ‘anarchic mobs’.
“We shoot because we want to. Get inside your homes if you don’t want to die,” so said one front-line journalist describing the bloodiest day of the demonstrations in Myanmar. 21 protesters have been killed, with 18 coming yesterday as demonstrators clashed with the armed authorities, demanding that Aung Sang Suu Kyi be returned to power.
“Young people are resisting state oppression with anything they have,” said youth activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi. “We won’t let military rule us again. Never again.”
The state-run media said that the army had shown restraint, but would not ignore “anarchic mobs”. It said “severe action will be inevitably taken” against “riotous protesters.”
As SBS News noted, “Across the country, protesters wearing plastic work helmets and with makeshift shields faced off against police and soldiers in battle gear, including some from units notorious for tough crackdowns on ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar’s border regions. In the coastal town of Dawei, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the middle of the road, witnesses said.”
Humiliated by the result, the USDP alleged the election was subject to widespread fraud. However, international observers, including the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections and the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, all declared the elections a success. The EU’s preliminary statement noted that 95% of observers had rated the process “good” or “very good”.
Reputable local organisations, such as the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), agreed. These groups issued a joint statement on January 21 saying “the results of the elections were credible and reflected the will of the majority voters.”
Yet, taking a page out of former US President Donald Trump’s book, the USDP pressed its claims of fraud despite the absence of any substantial evidence — a move designed to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.
The military did not initially back the USDP’s claims, but it has gradually begun to provide the party with more support, with the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, refusing to rule out a coup in late January.
The military had previously ruled Myanmar for half a century after General Ne Win launched a coup in 1962. A so-called internal “self-coup” in 1988 brought a new batch of military generals to power. That junta, led by Senior General Than Shwe, allowed elections in 1990 that were won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party. The military leaders, however, refused to acknowledge the results.
In 2008, a new constitution was drawn up by the junta which reserved 25% of the national parliament seats for the military and allowed it to appoint the ministers of defence, border affairs and home affairs, as well as a vice president. Elections in 2010 were boycotted by the NLD, but the party won a resounding victory in the next elections in 2015.
Since early 2016, Suu Kyi has been de facto leader of Myanmar, even though there is still no civilian oversight of the military. Until this past week, the relationship between civilian and military authorities was tense at times, but overall largely cordial. It was based on a mutual recognition of overlapping interests in key areas of national policy.
As (Senior Lecturer, University of South Australia) and (Professor and Head of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania) noted at the start of February, “Governments around the world will likely now apply or extend sanctions on members of the military. Indeed, the US has released a statement saying it would ‘take action’ against those responsible. Foreign investment in the country — except perhaps from China — is also likely to plummet.
“As Myanmar’s people have already enjoyed a decade of increased political freedoms, they are also likely to be uncooperative subjects as military rule is re-imposed.
“The 2020 general election demonstrated, once again, the distaste in Myanmar for the political role of the armed forces and the enduring popularity of Suu Kyi. Her detention undermines the fragile coalition that was steering Myanmar through a perilous period, and could prove a messy end to the profitable détente between civilian and military forces.”
Adam Simpson and Nicholas Farrelly contributed to this report.