Blood-stained slippers abandoned in the streets; armed security forces shouting orders at the citizens they are sworn to protect; and seemingly every day the sound of gunfire, explosions or both. This is the new reality in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Six months ago, few would have predicted such scenes of bloodshed and chaos in the commercial capital.

“We just worked together. We didn’t join the State Administration Council. For example, Daw Aye Nu Sein joined the State Administration Council because of offers from some people close to the Tatmadaw,” U Thar Tun Hla, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), told reporters at a press conference on May 5. 

However, some Arakanese politicians who preferred to push for reforms through the parliament formed the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) to contest the first general election since the 1990 poll, in 2010. The RNDP won the largest number of seats in Arakan State — a testimony to the overwhelming support of Arakanese people for the party.

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.

Because there was no road, locals had to travel through the mountains for three hours and then take a ferry to sell vegetables in the town of Kyaukphyu. On their way back home, they were often robbed by dacoits in the forest.

As the Arakan Army (AA) celebrated the 12th anniversary of its founding on April 10, not only Arakanese people but also the leaders of other ethnic groups waited with interest to read the remarks of AA Commander-in-Chief Major-General Twan Mrat Naing. From his message, they hoped to decipher the AA’s stance on Myanmar people’s resistance to the military coup of February 1.

Under U Than Shwe’s military regime, China did not encourage Myanmar’s democratic transition while Western countries imposed sanctions against Myanmar. It stood with military dictators and received many projects and substantial natural resources from Myanmar. So, the majority of Myanmar do not like and/or are actively against Chinese projects.  

People across Myanmar including in rural areas took part in the 1988 pro-democracy general strike, but today people from some parts of Myanmar are completely silent on the military coup. In some parts of the country, anti-coup protests have taken place but are relatively small, and it is questionable whether anti-military coups have left many people in ethnic states angry. 

Arakanese people have had little say in the ongoing projects, such as the Shwe gas pipeline, which exports natural gas from the coast of Arakan to China, the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and the India-sponsored Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. On the other hand, socioeconomic needs such as 24-hour electricity supply, access to quality education and healthcare, and decent roads and other transport infrastructure, remain unmet in many parts of Arakan State.

What will be the outcome and credibility of the main feasibility study on the Kyaukphyu-Mandalay railway? These are very important questions. China is ready to pursue its strategy of undermining international criticism of its projects in Myanmar.