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Booting out partial democracy

  • 03 February, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Booting out partial democracy

Historical background

  • The Myanmar army seized power, turning a partial democracy into a full-fledged military rule, yet again.
  • 1962, 1988 and 1990 are the milestone years when the generals took similar drastic actions to overthrow a democratic government or derail people’s expressed preferences.
  • Between March 2016 and January 2021, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi shared power with the military.
  • This was a bold experiment to govern an intensely complex nation in Southeast Asia.
  • Myanmar thus became a car driven by two drivers.

Emergency or coup?

  • To explain the military’s actions, its spokesman pointed out that there was “terrible fraud in the voter list” in the parliamentary elections held in November 2020, and that the Election Commission “failed to settle the matter.”
  • Claiming that this development would “obstruct the path to democracy”, the army declared an emergency, transferring all powers to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Questionable action

The decision seems questionable on legal and constitutional grounds.

  • First, electoral issues need to be addressed and resolved by relevant authorities, not the military leadership.
  • Second, Article 417 of the Constitution empowers the President to proclaim emergency, in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council.
    • It does not seem that the Council met or presidential consent was obtained.
    • In fact, President Win Myint and the de facto head of the government, Ms. Suu Kyi, have been detained.
  • Therefore, the conclusion is inescapable: it is a coup d’état staged by the army in a fashion familiar to the people.

Reason for coup d’état

  • The fact that the generals swung into action hours before the newly elected Parliament was due to hold its first session shows that discussions to resolve differences may have continued until the last minute. As they failed, the break-up became inevitable.

Conflicts between Tatmadaw and National League for Democracy

Ideological conflict:

    • The army has a sense of entitlement to power on the grounds that it secured independence, defended the country against secession, and ensured stability and development.
    • It views itself as the guardian of the state.
    • NLD leader Ms. Suu Kyi, the other protagonist, has always expressed admiration for the army (especially because it was established and nurtured by her father), but she has been a staunch advocate of democracy, a system in which the army should be completely apolitical.
    • Specifically, the two sides have had modest to serious differences over ethnic reconciliation, constitutional reform, the Rohingya issue, and the China policy.

Political conflicts

  • Second, in political terms the fight is for power.
  • The army has been used to exercising power for long, which yields it immense economic dividends too.
  • Presidential ambitions and the future of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s career constitute a relevant issue.
  • Back in 2016, and even now, argue well-informed sources, he nurtured the dream to be Myanmar’s President.
  • Ms. Suu Kyi was opposed to it. Besides, she was perhaps unwilling even to extend his tenure. He is due to retire from the army in July. Presumably the coup guarantees an indefinite extension.

Situation within Myanmar

  • The military leadership understands the people’s psyche well. The divide between the Burmans, the majority group, and the ethnic minorities remains wide.
  • The latter are generally opposed to a strong Central government.
  • As to the former, they are no doubt supportive of ‘Mother Suu’, but only up to a point.
  • They are largely Buddhists and peace-loving.
  • In areas where palpable discontent arises, the army possesses enough tools to manage situations. And Burmese jails are not short of space.

Policy of non-interference (Way ahead)

  • Whenever democracy suffers, India feels concerned, even anguished.
  • But the government is committed to the policy of non-interference in another state’s internal affairs.
  • It is also guided by the national interest.
  • Therefore, in managing relations with Myanmar, India will astutely balance its principles, values, interests and geopolitical realities.


Source: TH


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