By Min Htee
Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government on February 1, claiming the 2020 general elections that brought another landslide victory to the National League for Democracy (NLD) was marred by fraud. More than three months since the coup, resistance against the junta remains strong nationwide, and the administrative mechanism of the State Administration Council, the military regime’s governing body, is on shaky ground.
More than 700 civilians have died since the coup as the State Administration Council (SAC) has imposed murderous crackdowns on anti-regime protesters. More than 3,000 people are still being detained. The junta continues to use violence against ongoing popular protests in the country.
At the same time, fierce fighting is taking place in Kachin and Karen states as the Kachin Independence Army and Karen National Union respectively have launched attacks on junta forces.
Coup leader and SAC chairman Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on Myanmar in Jakarta on April 24. A “five-point consensus” was reached at the summit on ending violence, facilitating a constructive dialogue between all parties, a special ASEAN envoy to facilitate the dialogue, acceptance of aid and a visit by an envoy to Myanmar.
While ASEAN leaders vowed to facilitate a constructive dialogue between all parties, the statement did not call for the release of political prisoners. Without pressure, it is unimaginable that the military regime would release the leaders of the NLD government and hold talks with them.
The military-drafted 2008 Constitution is against federalism and will not guarantee self-determination for ethnic states. The National Unity Government (NUG), the new shadow administration that was formed in mid-April by deposed parliamentarians to oppose the junta, has announced that it has scrapped the 2008 Constitution. When there is no common ground, talks between the two sides are unlikely.
Moreover, the scale of the violence the military regime has committed against the people is too large to allow for talks, especially with the young and spirited opposition of Generation Z, which arguably has and will continue to suffer most from the junta’s violence.
The military regime claims it will hold a new election and transfer power to the winner at some point after the yearlong state of emergency it declared on February 1. But if it continues to use violence to solve the ongoing crisis, a credible new election is highly unlikely because the military knows that it will be held responsible for the crimes it committed against the people if a legitimate civilian government comes to power.
This “Spring Revolution” should focus on ending the world’s longest-running civil war, and efforts should be directed toward the ultimate goal of a federal union (the lack thereof being the root cause of many of Myanmar’s problems). Meanwhile, the NUG still needs to establish legitimacy and win the recognition of ethnic groups. To do the latter, the NUG must fully accept the political philosophy of ethnic people.
The coup came as Myanmar grappled with its second wave of COVID-19. To prevent a third wave of this pandemic and rebuild Myanmar’s economy, which has been paralysed by COVID-19 and political instability, will be the toughest challenge for the Southeast Asian nation.
It will be interesting to see how China will approach the latest junta, having backed the previous military regime and exploited Myanmar’s natural resources hand in glove with past dictators.
Myanmar’s northern neighbor also has influence over the Tatmadaw. At a time when international pressures on China are increasing over its aggressive policies as it seeks superpower status, it is evident that Beijing is using the Myanmar issue to counter the pressures of Western countries. In other words, it is defending the Myanmar coup leaders in order to protect itself.
More than three months since the coup, the military still cannot operate its administrative mechanism, and protests have hit the streets again after a brief pause. The military junta said it would reopen universities in May and basic education schools in June after schools were closed for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be interesting to see how many striking Education Ministry staff will return to work across the country.
The NUG said it would provide regular salaries to staff joining the civil disobedience movement. The spokesman for the military council, Major General Zaw Min Tun, said at a press conference in April that students would complete two grades in one academic year. Normally, there are eight months of teaching in an academic year, and we will have to wait and see how two years of lessons will be taught in just eight months.
Meanwhile, it is evident that holding a new election under the 2008 Constitution will not solve Myanmar’s crisis. Ethnic political parties have said few words about how to solve this crisis. The only solution to end the long-running armed conflicts and prevent future coups is to establish a federal union with self-determination and autonomy for ethnic states.
For the time being, not all ethnic armed groups have joined hands with the NUG. To reach a solid agreement with ethnic armed organisations over a federal union is a precondition to defeating the dictatorship.
It is common knowledge that Myanmar’s problems emerged because Burmese political leaders and the military failed to honour the Panglong Agreement, which was signed by Burmese and ethnic leaders in 1947 for Burma Proper and Frontier Areas to gain “Independence” from the British together. In post-coup Myanmar, only when political changes can be introduced in unity will a meaningful union be built and development be achieved.
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