Myanmar’s Military Seizes Power in a Coup. Why?

Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s political government in a coup on Monday, after a decade of parliamentary elections and other reforms.

The generals made their move hours before Parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the ruling National League for Democracy’s (NLD) landslide win in a November 8 election viewed as a referendum on Aung San Suu Kyi’s fledgling democratic rule.

Kyi, the Southeast Asian nation’s (formerly Burma) de facto head of state and other senior figures from NLD as well as regional government leaders were arrested in early morning raids. A number of ethnic party and student leaders, as well as prominent activists and human rights defenders were also reported to have been arrested, reports Amnesty International Australia.

Later in the morning, a military-owned television station announced that a one-year state of emergency was being imposed under the authority of the Commander in Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the report adds.

“This followed days of reported mounting tensions between NLD officials and military representatives ahead of the first session of the newly-elected parliament scheduled today.”

The general, who is required by law to retire from his military post when he turns 65 in July, has long harbored presidential ambitions, according to Melissa Crouch, professor at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, and its affiliate party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), have alleged widespread irregularities and misconduct by the Union Election Commission in the 8 November 2020 election, which saw the NLD increase its parliamentary majority. On November 15, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) confirmed Aung San Suu Kyi’ and the NLD’s victory in the general elections, taking 396 of the 498 seats up for election in both chambers of parliament.

That’s 79.52 percent of the total seats for NLD (armed forces are guaranteed 25 percent) –“enough to amend the constitution and marginalize the military,” an Asia-Pacific based analyst specializing in US-China relations and South Asia says.

“The Army has been complaining about voter list fraud, but neither NLD nor the Election Commission paid notice”, he adds. “That would not be acceptable.”

According to Aljazeera, commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing’s presidential ambitions played a key role in power grab.

Just days before the polls, Myanmar’s powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing had raised the possibility the army may not accept the outcome of the election. Accusing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government of “unacceptable mistakes”, he told a local news outlet that “we are in a situation where we need to be cautious” about the results of the poll.

The military said its own investigation had found 10.5 million suspect votes, an assertion supported by the USDP.

NLD in 2015 had established the first civilian government in half a century.

The coup sparked global condemnation, with the United Nations calling it a serious blow to democratic reforms in the country.

President Biden said the United States and its partners will hold accountable people responsible for the coup, and the U.S. would reinstate sanctions against the country if its military doesn’t “immediately relinquish the power they have seized” and release activists and officials.

The U.S. will defend democracy around the world, AP reported Biden as saying.

Monday’s coup – coming just hours before the new parliament was set to meet for the first time – was fueled by the military’s realization it had no other option to regain the presidency, according to Aljazeera.

“To get the office of the president back in their hands, they had to act outside of the law … And in a year’s time, they’ll allow a fresh election to take place. If the USDP was successful in getting a third of the seats, then it’s possible that Min Aung Hlaing could become president,” said Melissa Crouch, professor at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “It was the USDP’s humiliating showing in the November election that thwarted his goal.”

Commenting on the coup in Myanmar, a Pakistani defense official based in one of the major capitals in the Middle East said, “We should learn from them.”

ALSO READ: ‘Titanic Battle of Wits Between Status Quo and Naya Pakistan’