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Insights into Editorial: Why did the Myanmar military stage a coup?


Context of the issue:

Myanmar’s powerful military chief had raised doubts about last year’s election results even before the polls were held.

“We are in a situation where we need to be cautious about the outcome,” he told the local media before the November 8 elections.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the polls by winning almost 80% of the vote, while the Army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) suffered a humiliating defeat.

The USDP did not accept the result. The military backed the USDP’s allegations of fraud, without offering any evidence.


Brief Background: Why the transition failed?

  1. The political climate in the junta-led Myanmar started changing around 2010. In 2008, the military had written a new Constitution that made sure the Generals’ interests would be protected even if there is a transition.
  2. Than Shwe, who had been ruling the country since 1992, shook up the power structure, promoted young soldiers who were loyal to him and conducted elections under the new Constitution.
  3. The NLD, which had not recognised the Constitution, boycotted the 2010 election, which the USDP won.
  4. In the next five years, the Army loosened its grip on the government and society. Political prisoners, including Ms. Suu Kyi, were released. Media censorship was eased.
  5. S. President Barack Obama visited Myanmar in 2012, signalling a thaw in relations between Myanmar and the U.S. Ms. Suu Kyi’s party also changed its earlier position and accepted the Army-written Constitution.
  6. The NLD won the 2015 election, the country’s first free and fair election participated by multiple parties, and formed the government, raising hopes that the country is on its way to full transition to democracy.
  7. But the 2008 Constitution has enough clauses to prevent such a change. According to the Constitution, the President must have military experience and the President himself, his spouse or children “shall not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country”. Ms. Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British citizens, cannot become President.
  8. The Constitution also mandates that the Defence and Interior Ministries would be controlled by the military.
  9. Also, 25% of the total seats in Parliament (166 out of the 664-member house) are reserved for the military, giving it a veto over any move to change the Constitution.
  10. So even when the Army allowed power to be transferred to an elected government, it made sure that it would continue to drive defence and internal security policies, and that the USDP, its political vehicle, has an edge over other parties in elections with the reserved seats in Parliament. But the Generals wanted more.


What has happened now, and why?


  1. The military is now back in charge and has declared a year-long state of emergency.
  2. It seized control following a general election which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.
  3. The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud.
  4. They declared a state of emergency for a year, and took power in their hands.
  5. The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims. The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.
  6. Ms Suu Kyi is thought to be under house arrest. Several charges have been filed against her, including breaching import and export laws and possession of unlawful communication devices. Many other NLD officials have also been detained.
  7. Myanmar, which started a fragile transition to democracy 10 years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship, is back in the hands of the Generals.


What has the international reaction been?

  1. The UK, EU and Australia are among those to have condemned the military takeover.
  2. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms”.
  3. US President Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions. But not everyone has reacted in this way.
  4. China blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup. The country, which has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides to “resolve differences”. Its Xinhua news agency described the changes as a “cabinet reshuffle”.
  5. Neighbours including Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, have said it is an “internal matter”.



India expresses ‘deep concern’ over military coup in Myanmar:

  1. India expressed “deep concern” over the reports of an unfolding military coup in Myanmar.
  2. India’s official response came hours after the Myanmar military declared a state of emergency in the Southeast Asian country and detained State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
  3. We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar.
  4. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely.
  5. India had shown commitment to build robust relationship with Myanmar over the past two decades which intensified after the democratic process began in 2011.
  6. On January 22, India sent 15 lakh doses of the Covishield vaccine to assist Myanmar in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
  7. On October 15, 2020, India announced the handing over of a kilo-class submarine INS Sindhuvir to the Myanmar navy. The Indian gift is the first submarine for the Myanmar navy.
  8. However, civil-military tension in Myanmar had been increasing since the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy led by Ms. Suu Kyi over reports of electoral fraud.
  9. Myanmar’s newly elected Parliament was expected to meet on Monday but the military junta moved in the early hours and declared the state of emergency.
  10. The NLD rule in Myanmar coincided with the military campaign against the Rohingya refugees of the Rakhine province which led to the displacement of at least one million ethnic Rohingya citizens of Myanmar who have taken refuge in Bangladesh and other countries.


Way Ahead: What’s next?

The Army says it has declared an emergency as the NLD government failed to act on its complaints on voter fraud.

It has promised elections, without offering any time frame. But the NLD has called for protests against the coup.

The U.S., which under President Obama helped the transition, has reacted harshly. India has expressed “deep concern”.

But if China’s response is any indication, the Generals won’t face any heat from Beijing. This means, they could circumvent pressure from the U.S., even economic sanctions, by moving closer to China, which is already making huge investments in Myanmar.

Ms. Suu Kyi had tried to buy peace with the Generals in her first term, especially on the Rohingya issue.

She defended the Army crackdown on the Rohingya, which UN investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”. But the Generals were still not pleased.

But Suu Kyi’s popularity and an energised NLD that was in power for five years would be an impediment for them. And their own unpopularity, a burden.