GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 519, 16 May 2021

Myanmar: 100 days of military rule is marked by instability, with use of force and public protests
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

What happened?
On 11 May, several protests, strikes, and rallies were organized across Myanmar to condemn the 100 days of military rule. Following an organized coup to establish the military government, on 1 February 2021, public protests and civil disobedience movement are common. 

On 8 May, the government denounced the newly formed National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel government, as a 'terrorist' group. On 7 May, the government transferred the control of the General Administrative Department (GAD) back to the Home Affairs ministry to revive the neighbourhood surveillance networks. On 5 May, NUG declared to have formed peoples' defense force which comprises of common citizens who are given defense training by some of the ethnic armed groups. 

This week witnessed several bomb attacks targeting the security forces and military-owned institutions and infrastructures. The skirmishes between Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed groups, especially KIA, KNU, and KNLA escalated, forcing citizens to escape to the neighbouring countries.

What is the background?
First, 100 days of consolidation by the military. The military took over, stating fraud in the 2020 election and to 'uphold democracy.' None of the claims by the military regarding the fraudulent nature of the last election had any proof. The detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, former President, with several members of the National League of Democracy has not helped the government gain the required legitimacy. Further, this government has concentrated on repressing anti-government voices through atrocities, violence, detentions, and suppressing media rather than development. The government has no clarity about the COVID-19 impact on the country or the dissemination of vaccines (received 5,00,000 vaccines on 4 May from the People's Liberation Army). As per a UNDP report, by 2022, nearly half of the population in Myanmar will be in poverty due to the ongoing conflict and pandemic.

Second, 100 days of popular resistance. Immediately after the coup, several public servants and health facilitators have called for a civil disobedience movement. Within a week, full-fledged protests erupted across the country, demanding the release of detained leaders and restoring the elected government. Although the protest was primarily youth-led, it received support from all walks of life. The response from the security forces seemed cautious in the beginning but they quickly resorted to vehement repressions. More than 700 have been killed and 4,000 have been detained to date. In response to the growing atrocities, several groups of protestors have used homemade bombs, guns made of cycle tyres, and Molotov cocktails since mid-March. These groups are actively supported by several ethnic armed groups. Most of the ethnic armed groups, including those who had signed the National Ceasefire Agreement, have not recognized this government.

Third, 100 days of international apathy and weak regional response. Australia, the US, New Zealand, the UK, and several other countries have criticized the coup, de-recognized, and levied sanctions on the military government. But the sanctions are ineffective, as stated by a government spokesperson to CNN because they are habituated to dealing with severe sanctions in the past. The UNSC has failed to officially condemn the government owing to the support of Tatmadaw's two allies, China and Russia. In the region, the efforts from ASEAN have also proved lousy and without impact.

What does it mean?
First, although the government has assured an election by 2022 it is evident it will be a sham and will be a repeat of history from 2010. Second, the conflict within the country is likely to escalate and may also head towards a civil war. This will derail the little hopes of development that the country had during the previous partial-democratic government.