Shortly after the 2020 elections, Myanmar, an East Asian country, was the victim of a coup d’état and today faces a serious political and humanitarian crisis. Under the allegation that the elections were rigged, the military declared a state of emergency for a year, closing the country’s Senate and Parliament. During the coup process, key political leaders were arrested by the military, such as President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite living in a democratic period since 2011, the country still has a government structure that reflects the 50 years of dictatorial rule, and that collaborated to the realization of the coup.
To understand the current situation and the whole process, we interviewed Thiago Henrique Desenzi, professor of International Relations at Faculdade Anhembi Morumbi, with experience in Political Science – emphasis on Society, State and Government, working mainly in the areas of democracy, popular participation and new communication and information technologies applied to democracy.
“The political context is quite tense. The country was not able to get out of a tension because of a split of power that ended up not being completed. The military was granted a portion of power, but not in a broad way, because they have always had a presence in the Legislative and Executive branches, and also inside the big companies. (…) In Myanmar, the military is mixed up with the state, because they have access to the structures. 25% of the legislature, the main ministries, the control of the armed forces, everything is in the hands of the military.”, explains Thiago.
With the establishment of democracy, elections for Parliament took place and a series of new reforms were proposed for the country, many times against the interests of the military. Since they occupy a considerable portion of the country’s government, many of these reforms have been blocked.
In 2020, however, the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, had a landslide victory at the polls. They went on to hold almost 83% of the positions in contention, a fact that frightened and surprised the military layer. So they claimed that the elections were rigged, and the coup began.
The military cut blocked internet access and cell phone signal, and canceled all access to the capital Naypyidaw with troops and trucks. Soon after, the arrests of politicians, civil leaders, activists, oppositionists, and writers began. Officially, the coup was declared after a TV station belonging to the army declared a state of emergency for a year.
However, after experiencing a decade of democracy, the population took to the streets of the country to protest against the military coup. Thus, began a civil war project in the country, with a disproportionate reprisal by the government against the protesters. Since February, more than 500 civilians have died in clashes with the military, and about 3000 are missing.
This month, the UN issued a warning that the country could become the new Syria. Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, said:
“There are clear echoes of 2011 in Syria. There too we saw peaceful demonstrations suppressed with unnecessary and completely disproportionate force.”
Despite the great similarities, Thiago points out that it is unlikely to be repeated in the proportion that occurred in Syria, mainly due to the geopolitical differences of the two countries.
“The opposition blocks to the military government in Myanmar are in the minority. They may be in the majority in terms of numbers, but in terms of strength there is little geopolitical action that allows the military to have any kind of opponent to match. What is possible is a civil war, but without the direct influence of these hegemonic blocks, as occurs in, where you have the direct influence of Iran, Russia, and the United States, for example. I believe that in Myanmar there may be greater international pressure for the ways to be handled differently.”
Within this scenario, there is still a conflict of ideas within the UN Security Council, which prevents them from applying measures in the country. China and Russia are historical allies to Myanmar’s military, and both have veto power within the Council, preventing sanctions from being imposed on the country. Meanwhile, countries in the block aligned to the U.S. government, such as the United Kingdom and Brazil, are releasing notes rejecting the coup and the violence taking place in the country, each following their own interests.
“China’s interests are commercial. In the geopolitical context, the United States influencing a liberating “democratization” process means greater US access and influence within the territory. China has an outlet for its goods directly through Myanmar’s territory, and not having access to this route means an increase in the cost of its commercial actions. So, for it, the interest is to ensure the hegemony that guarantees its interests in the territory.”
There is also an interest coming from Russia that supports all of China’s actions in this context, because strengthening the American block is to weaken Russian interests. According to Thiago, this is a geopolitical action of not allowing a greater American influence within that context. And the United States, on the contrary, seeks the maintenance and the importance of having a territory there to serve its interests.
However, the conflicts in Myanmar did not start just now. The country has always been plunged into tensions, mainly due to ethnic conflicts in the territory.
In this way, it is difficult to define for now the paths that the conflicts in Myanmar will follow. Due to its complex political structure and unresolved tensions, the country is currently facing a serious humanitarian crisis and a possible civil war, both of which have no prospects of improvement.
“It is an open context. It could lead to a civil war. We have had 10 years of democratic experiment, allowing the population twice to vote in open elections and to have greater civil liberties, since there have been effective changes in terms of access to information and the internet. Today the internet is being shut down inside the country. This generates a very strong social commotion.”
Also, Thiago comments that the percentage of votes that the democratic party held is expressive, but is a very big step to think that there is enough strength to make a counterpoint to the military. The current government has total conditions to remain in power because of the power apparatus and the structure they have inside the country, besides the international support.
“I believe and bet that the most likely context is that the military will hold on to power. And, should this move get too far out of control, they will not extend the initial period that was proposed. But, going back I think is unlikely”, Thiago concludes.
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