Myanmar has recently witnessed its first coup d’etat against a civilian government since 1962. Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military army has recently seized power and detained State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi along with President Win Myint and other democratically elected leaders of the civilian government. Replacements for a number of ministers have been already declared. Tatmadaw has announced one year of emergency and floated allegations of misconduct and fraud in last November’s election. Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), had a landslide win in that election and also performed better than it did in 2015. On the other hand, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the military backed party performed poorly in November and won just 33 seats out of the 476 seats. The election is considered as the second democratic election since Myanmar emerged from 50 years of military rule in 2011.
Why coup d’etat?
Although Suu Kyi along with her allies formed the civilian government, they lacked real power. Tatmadaw has been the actual driving force of the government. They have a 25% reserved seat in their parliament out of the total 664 seats. That is why the general election was contested for the remaining 476 seats. The Myanmar military is given constitutional powers by seat reservation in the parliament. Yet, there was a semblance of a civilian government. But now, the civilians and the military are again in conflict.
Suu Kyi angered Tatmadaw and the Army General Min Aung Hlaing by saying she will gradually try to mitigate the dominance of the armed forces by amending the constitution. She said she would reduce their reservation percentage in the parliament. She had a long term 10-year plan to implement this for ensuring the extent of the civilian government’s influence. Initially, she wanted to reduce the military’s reservation from 25% to 15%. Then, after the 2025 election, she said it will be reduced to 10% and in 2030, it will be 5%. This, for obvious reasons, endangered the military domination and they decided to detain Suu Kyi and initiated the coup d’etat.
Significantly, Suu Kyi could never obtain a significant official post in the civilian government due to a rule earlier set by the armed forces. Any person married to a foreigner can never hold the highest post in the government. It is quite clear that the armed force had tactfully implemented this to keep Suu Kyi out of the loop. Regarding the recent coup d’etat, Suu Kyi said that it will put the country under dictatorship. It is known that Min Aung Hlaing is a politically ambitious man and he will probably try his best to be in power.
Samir Kumar Das, Professor, University of Calcutta and former VC, University of North Bengal, told BE, “There has been no military takeover in recent times in the global context and this is like putting the clock back.”
Myanmar is now counting international penalties. US President Joe Biden has cut off $1 billion funds and blocked any assets and transactions with 10 current and former Burmese military officials accountable for the coup. India also shared a discussion with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the necessary process of restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
For India, Myanmar is geopolitically important as it is located at a vital position in the Southeast Asia map. As against the hawkish Chinese, Myanmar could help India maintain the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific area. Talking about India’s interest in the region, Professor Das said, “In politics, at the end, power matters. Myanmar has always been the territory of contest between India and China and both these countries want to exercise their influence in Myanmar. For the last few years, the Indian army has been in cooperation with Myanmar’s army. Both India and Myanmar’s army generals have shared friendly visits. This ‘under the wave relationship’ and communication always existed, although India never declared it openly. At this point of time, India cannot lose Myanmar’s confidence because the country acts as a counterpoint against China’s influence.”
Myanmar is also strategically essential for India because it is an important member of the ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’. The country shares a 25 km maritime border in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar is also important for India’s ‘Act East’ and ‘Neighbour First’ policy. Many insurgency groups in north-eastern India are also based in Myanmar. So, it can be assumed that the unrest and disturbances in Myanmar will impact India.
It can be estimated that the Rohingya crisis will intensify in future under the complete influence of military power. Though Suu Kyi could not be much vocal against the military atrocities on the minority group, at least the civil government was there to be accountable for. Suu Kyi, for a large number of people, was only a ray of hope.
During 2017, the Rohingya Muslims had to face what has been described by human rights observers as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and were forced to leave the country. Talking about that, Professor Das said, “Myanmar is a country that doesn’t much bother about international opinions. Even if Suu Kyi is a Nobel laureate, it doesn’t matter. Additionally, the mass protests in the country won’t last long because Myanmar’s army is very brutal and they will demolish the protest with strong arms. So, the Rohingya crisis alongside the democratic atmosphere will eventually worsen and Tatmadaw will be deaf to international opinion.” Bangladesh and India will be directly affected by this.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) group is also showing further concern about the situation. India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne had a discussion regarding the situation in Myanmar. They agreed to take forward their ‘comprehensive and strategic partnership’ to ensure ‘equitable and safe access to vaccines’. Myanmar earlier showed interest in receiving Covid vaccines manufactured in India. As India is now maintaining a distance from both the civilian and military leadership of Myanmar, the developments regarding vaccine exports will depend on how things unfold.