The Republic Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, has dealt with political instability since its initial declaration of independence from Britain in 1948. From a recent military coup to the weeks of protest that followed, the events that have unfolded in the past two months were ultimately inevitable after decades of unrest.
The first time Myanmar’s military demonstrated a coup was in 1962, which lasted 26 years under the rule of Commander Ne Win. Ne Win was eventually forced to step down in 1988 thanks to the 8888 uprisings, a pro-democracy movement led in large part by college-based student organizations. It was then that the military decided to create the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), during which a pro-democracy activist named Aung San Suu Kyi gained mass popularity. In 1990, free elections were finally held leading to a win for the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party. The military refused to accept the results, placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and maintained power for another 22 years.
An attempt to transition into quasi-democracy was made between 2011-2015, in which the NLD won 86 percent of the Parliament during the 2015 elections. The military still maintained a large presence in government for several years afterward but wanted to gain full control again after the 2020 elections in which the NLD secured a landslide victory. After the November 8th results, the military appeared at the Myanmar Supreme Court to claim that the NLD fraudulently won, but were unsuccessful in their conviction. It was only a matter of time before a coup was bound to happen.
On February 1st of the new year, the military apprehended Aung San Suu Kyi and multiple public officials within the NLD party. They then broadcasted their choice to enact a coup on the Myawaddy television station. The station, which is military owned, had the news presenter first recite the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar, followed by information regarding the military’s decision to declare a state of emergency for one year.
Shortly after the public announcement, the military canceled any flights departing Myanmar, took control of all government infrastructure, halted a majority of television news programming, cut off internet access, and shut down big commercial banks. People in major cities around the country rushed to stock up on groceries and emergency supplies in response to the sudden takeover.
After the reality of what had occurred finally set in, full fledged protests across Myanmar began. The protests, which were initially peaceful, took a turn on February 20th when two unarmed protesters were killed by security forces in Mandalay. The deaths incited a strike on February 22nd, where millions of Burmese marched the streets. Every week violence was escalating, and according to the New York Times, the armed forces have killed over 275 demonstrators since the first week of February.
In an effort to protect each other from military raids, protesters have been seen building barricades in their neighborhoods and learning to create smoke bombs from the internet. The New York Times also reports that “in the forests, they are training in basic warfare techniques and plotting to sabotage military-linked facilities.”
On the day of the coup, President Joe Biden released an official statement condemning the Myanmar military’s detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and standing in solidarity with the Burmese people by stating, “The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized, release the activists and officials they have detained, lift all telecommunications restrictions, and refrain from violence against civilians.” Biden also threatened to impose sanctions if the Myanmar military persisted in its rule.
On March 25th, the U.S. Treasury Department announced their placement of sanctions on the Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited, both of which the Myanmar military controls a large part of their country’s economy through. The Myanmar military has yet to respond to the sanctions.