Just How Will the World Deal with the Failed State of Myanmar?
Article written by Jett James Pruitt
With American news coverage centering exclusively around wealth inequality, social justice, and political divisiveness, the rest of the world has its eye on a rarely-mentioned, Southeastern Asian country that just may impact our lives more than we know.
Burma—also known as Myanmar—is about to become a failed state.
Under the leadership of General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military forces staged a coup d'état against the country’s democratically-elected government in February. Officially known as the Tatmadaw, the military deposed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power and swiftly installed a stratocratic government.
General Min Aung Hlaing
The Tatmadaw justified its takeover by alleging the results of the November 2020 general election were fraudulent. In the election, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) soundly defeated the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was endorsed by the Tatmadaw.
Put simply, this has manifested far-reaching consequences for the fragile country. Thousands of protesters have flooded the streets of major cities, demanding that the military return power to civilian control. In response, the Tatmadaw issued a year-long state of emergency, imposed stringent curfews, and restricted access to the internet. More significantly—very much to the condemnation of the international community—Burmese military forces are engaging in brutal tactics to quell anti-coup demonstrations.
Hundreds of people, including dozens of children, have either been killed, injured, or detained by pro-coup security forces. Others have been forced into hiding.
As of April 12, 2021, over 700 protestors have died from lethal counterinsurgency measures.
Of course, besides producing domestic mayhem, the military coup has also caused an international refugee crisis. As reported by The Guardian, thousands of Burmese citizens are seeking safe haven from the bloody military crackdown. In short, this is complicating Myanmar’s bilateral relations with neighboring nations, such as Thailand and India.
In March, Thailand reportedly tried to bar thousands of Burmese refugees from entering its borders. Later, Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha admitted that the country was prepared for more arrivals.
“We don’t want to have mass migration into our territory, but we will consider human rights, too,” he said. “We have prepared some places, but we don’t want to talk about the preparation of refugee centers at the moment. We won’t go that far.”
General Hlaing recently assured the press that the military was on the side of the people, and promised to establish a “true and disciplined democracy” after the state of emergency is over.
Furthermore, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun attributed the ongoing violence to protestors. During a CNN interview with Clarissa Ward, General Tun claimed that junta forces had to strengthen security measures because protestors became increasingly violent over time.
Many prominent political figures—including Suu Kyi—have been detained by pro-coup security forces for several months. According to BBC News, Suu Kyi has been held at an unknown location since the February 1st coup. Among other things, Suu Kyi is facing criminal prosecution for violating the country’s official secrets act, possessing illegal walkie-talkies, and breaching COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Political Prisoner, Suu Kyi
Burmese President Win Myint was also apprehended, along with cabinet ministers, government deputies, and members of Parliament.
For clarification, Suu Kyi served as the State Counsellor of Myanmar from 2016 to 2021, which is the equivalent position of a prime minister. In essence, the State Counsellor was the de facto head of government in Burma.
As of April 2021, Suu Kyi is the first and only State Counsellor in Myanmar’s history. For context, Burma won independence from Britain in 1948. During this time, the country was solely referred to as Burma. After the country experienced severe political instability for several years, armed forces seized control in 1962. In 1989, the military junta changed the country’s name to Myanmar.
Starting in 2011, Myanmar gradually transitioned into a democracy. It only lasted one decade.
Outside of Myanmar, the military coup has caused considerable outrage in the international community. On February 10, 2021, American President Joe Biden delivered remarks regarding his administration’s response to the crisis in Burma. Speaking to reporters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, President Biden announced a series of sanctions on the Burmese military junta.
“As you know, the assault on Burma’s transition to democracy remains an issue of deep bipartisan concern,” President Biden said. “Today, I’ve approved a new executive order enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members.”
U.S. President, Joe Biden
China, the UK, and the European Union have also called for the release of Suu Kyi and a return to democratic procedures. Meanwhile, other Southeastern Asian countries are pursuing diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
So, as Myanmar descends into chaos, is there any hope for the restoration of Burmese democracy? Well, maybe.
The situation in Myanmar once again demonstrates the vital importance of maintaining election integrity in democratic governments at all costs.
Once Burmese voters felt disenfranchised by perceived unfair elections, this opened the door for the unpopular Tatmadaw to take control, with or without public mandate.
On April 16, 2021, anti-coup political leaders announced the formation of a National Unity Government. Comprising of ousted lawmakers, the parallel government seeks to undermine the country’s military regime, restore civilian rule, and establish a federal democracy.
In the new government, Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint retain their positions as Myanmar’s State Counsellor and President, respectively.
On the brink of a complete failure of state, just how will the world handle the mass refugee crisis if Myanmar falls? Only time will tell. And we need to pay attention now.
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