The political turmoil in Myanmar began long before the coup in February. 1. Over the past decade, the military has staged a great demonstration of giving up their power, and it certainly appears that they did when Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won five elections. Years ago. But all of this was merely superficial, as the 2008 Constitution drafted by the military reserved a quarter of parliamentary seats for military officers and gave generals control of three key ministries: Defense, Frontier Affairs and Home Affairs.
As early as September 2015, the head of the junta, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, said there were no plans for a military takeover. Now it’s a completely different story. Nearly 750 civilians are said to have been killed, with more than 3,500 activists, politicians, journalists, young protesters and even doctors arrested and another 1,000 in hiding with arrest warrants issued – all in just 80 days.
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Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Myanmar has seen its democratic transition undermined by oppression and military violence. This time around, however, people are no longer waiting for their detained political leaders and no longer tolerate a return to dictatorship.
A massive wave of ordinary citizens, especially young people, took up the challenge and participated in one of the most notable resistance movements ever seen. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) is proof of the foothold of democracy in Myanmar and proof of the progressive thinking of a younger generation of activists and political leaders. Their sacrifices in the midst of blatant atrocities well deserve their recent Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Under the banner of the “Spring Revolution”, the democratic resistance has also consolidated a new movement of national unity through a common enemy, overcoming previous ethnic, religious and class differences.
A handful of elected members of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Myanmar’s legislative body), the majority from the NLD, attempted to provide institutional leadership to the movement by forming the Committee representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). The CRPH is overwhelmingly viewed by the people of Myanmar and supporters of the international community as the effective government in exile. Its members have now formed an interim national unity government (NUG) and are making laws against the military regime. In a leap towards federal democracy, the CRPH removed all ethnic armed organizations from the list of illegal organizations and instead designated the Myanmar military as a terrorist organization. The creation of a federal army, made up of an armed coalition of ethnic armies, has meanwhile seen widespread support.
Despite the long history of failed promises to Myanmar’s ethnic groups, it appears that this time around the political vision and openings of the CRPH have been able to win their trust. Most ethnic parties and ethnic armed organizations now seem ready to put aside their differences and cooperate towards the goal of a united and federal Myanmar.
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After the coup, the junta proved unable to control the country or assert its legitimacy, and its continued acts of violence are counterproductive, highlighting its lack of success. On Apr. 21, the junta announced that High General Min Aung Hlaing would participate in the special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held to discuss the crisis in Myanmar. The meeting, in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, in April. 24, represents his first foray abroad since the coup and looks set to be a diplomatic offensive to bolster regional support. But while a litany of denunciations of the coup by world powers has been made, it remains imperative that the international community continue to put the words into practice by refusing official recognition to the generals and preventing any official representation of Myanmar on their part.
For a country only ten years after its democratic transition, Myanmar undoubtedly has a long list of obstacles and shortcomings to overcome. But as internal efforts come together, we are already seeing signs that freedom and democracy will prevail and that Myanmar truly has a chance to realize its potential in ways we have all hoped for. It is now up to the international community to help ensure that this happens.