Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the military coup of 1 February 2021. 

In an event hosted by international criminal law and human rights specialist Dr. Suwita Hani Randhawa, Politics students from UWE Bristol, Exeter, Queen Mary’s London and Birmingham were given the opportunity to find out more during a talk by King’s College London PhD student, Anna Plunkett.  

The event can be viewed on the UWE Bristol Politics and International Relations society YouTube page. 

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar is located in South-East Asia and is a member of the regional organisation ASEAN. The country’s immediate geographical neighbours include Thailand, India, China, Laos and Bangladesh.

Myanmar = Burma

Myanmar wasn’t always called ‘Myanmar’. Many people, including citizens of the Commonwealth, will recognise the country’s original name of Burma. Past remnants of this include military honours, such as the Burmese star. In 2016 the NLD, Myanmar’s ruling party, officially declared that it did not matter which name was used for the country. ‘Myanmar’ is the name more commonly used, though the United States prefers to use Burma in recognition of the ongoing political upheaval while the United Kingdom relies on ‘Myanmar’.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in British Burma, when the country was part of the British Empire. Her family had its own share of political struggles. Her father, Aung San, helped negotiate the country’s independence from the British crown and was assassinated shortly afterwards. Following independence, her mother, Khin Kyi was appointed the Burmese Ambassador to India, and the family moved there. As a result, Aung San Suu Kyi received her first education in India, from the University of Delhi in 1964. She later went on to study PPE at Oxford University, graduating in 1968 with an MA in Politics.

Her political career has been most eventful. In 1990 the military junta held an election and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won. Some claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi should become prime minister, but the military refused to hand over power, sparking an international outcry. This would be the second time in her political career that she was placed under house arrest. During this period she received the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize money was used to establish a health and education system for the people of her country.

During her career, Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for a total of 15 years over a 21-year period.

Timeline of February’s events

February was a turbulent month for Myanmar. The military coup precipitated the political downfall of Aung Sann Su Kyi and the National League for Democracy.

  • The military of Myanmar, known locally as the Tatmadaw, detain Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling NLD over claims of widespread election fraud during the national election that took place in November 2020.
  • The Tatmadaw hand all executive, legislative and judicial powers to General Min Aung Hlaing. The same week, a general strike begins within the Myanmar health service. Staff at 70 hospitals across the country walk out in protest of working in state-run facilities. Military raids the NLD’s national headquarters, confiscating various items of electronic equipment and paperwork. Myanmar police force files alleged charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president, Win Myant, for supposedly violating Coronavirus protocols. The Military also goes ahead and blocks sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, claiming to do so for ‘stability purposes’.
  • Myanmar’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, begins to see retaliatory anti-coup protests with street chants and three people arrested. This is also the day when the coup gained an international response, with the UN calling for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others within her government.
  • 5 February: The nationwide strike continues with other government workers, including teachers, joining the civil disobedience protests. They refuse to return to work unless an elected government, headed by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, is restored to reflect the results of the November 2020 election.
  • Kirin, a Japanese beverage group, terminates its relations with Myanmar Economic Holdings — a military conglomerate funding the military that is behind the ongoing coup.
  • Technology is compromised as the Tatmadaw block the internet, claiming that sensitive information has been shared on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many residents use VPN blockers to continue sharing information.
  • Tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. This is the biggest protest to date since the coup.
  • 8 February: Nationwide curfews come into force. Gatherings of five or more people are banned in Yangon and elsewhere to thwart protestors.
  • General Ming Aung Hlaing, the country’s de facto leader, makes his first televised address claiming Myanmar will have democratic elections within a year and that power will be handed to whoever wins.
  • 12 February: International demand reaches new heights. The United Nations Human Rights Council urges the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other top officials. It also asks the military to refrain from using violence and aggression tactics against its own people during peaceful protests.

Where are we now?

In March, ASEAN (the regional organisation) got involved. Since then, several rounds of emergency negotiations with an emergency summit have taken place in April. The meetings included Myanmar’s military leader Mind Aung Hlaing, prompting calls for his immediate detention at Jakarta International Airport. It was noted by ASEAN that his was the only presence from Myanmar, despite other officials — especially those from the former government — having been invited.

Events continue to unfold. Myanmar has declared a year-long state of emergency and the International Court has opened an investigation into the handling of the Rohingya crisis. The crisis in Myanmar is far from over.

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