On the morning of the February 1, 2021, the military of Myanmar, known locally as the Tatmadaw, moved against the elected government of the country, staging a coup to overthrow the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San herself is under arrest, as are most of the government and many members of her party, the NLD.
Additionally, reports are coming in of the army arresting others all over the country, generally critics of the military, and of disruption to the country’s internet.
The military has long held the reigns of power in Myanmar (also known as Burma), with the country being in the grip of a brutal military dictatorship between 1962 to 2011. After that there was a notional opening up of the country and steps towards democracy, but today’s events really just confirm that the military had never really relinquished their grip on the country.
Now, fearing the growing power of their civilian counterparts, the military has acted to protect their position. The catalyst of this fear was elections held last November. The military-backed party, the USDP, performed poorly, whereas the NLD did even better than in 2015, winning 83% of seats in the Myanmar parliament.
The results of the November election were to be enshrined this week by the first sessions of the new parliament. Arguing that the election was rigged, the army have now moved to secure their own power and have appointed their own President as “an emergency measure”.
Key to understanding the move is that the Myanmar armed forces are more of a mafia than a military. The General’s accrue unimaginable wealth through their domination of the country’s economy.This fact also explains the long running wars with various ethnic groups in Burma, which are often aimed at economically valuable targets such as gold and jade mines or timber.
With Aung San Suu Kyi’s and the civilian establishment’s power and legitimacy growing, both at home and abroad, the generals have decided to throw aside the façade of democracy that they have allowed for the last decade.
Ed Nash has spent years traveling around the world. Between June 2015 and July 2016 he volunteered with the Kurdish YPG in its battle against ISIS in Syria; his book on his experiences, Desert Sniper, was published in the UK by Little, Brown in September 2018.