Myanmar’s military has taken power and declared a state of emergency after detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government officials in a series of early morning raids that followed days of escalating tension over the outcome of the November election, which the ruling party won by a landslide. A video address broadcast on military-owned television said power had been handed to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Myo Nyunt, the spokesman for the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) said earlier on Monday, that Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders had been “taken” in the early hours of the morning. “I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law,” he said. Myanmar’s Parliament, where the military is given a quarter of seats and wields more power through its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was due to open in the country’s capital Naypyitaw from Monday.
Politicians from states and regions, as well as prominent political activists were also detained, while mobile and phone networks were seeing disruption. State media was also reported to be off-air. Monday’s developments drew immediate condemnation from the United States and Australia. “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. Australia said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrests. “We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
The NLD won November’s elections by a landslide, but the military has been waging a months-long campaign to discredit the outcome, despite no firm evidence of wrongdoing. The Supreme Court is currently considering its claims, but the situation escalated last week when Min Aung Hlaing threatened to abolish the constitution. On Saturday, the military appeared to backtrack saying media had taken the general’s comments out of context. “The Tatmadaw will defend the 2008 Constitution and only act within the boundary of existing laws,” it said.
“The people of Myanmar had their say in November’s vote, and overwhelmingly sent the message that they reject army rule,” said Charles Santiago, the chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a Malaysian MP. “The military must respect the will of the people and allow parliament to proceed.” Santiago urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, to “immediately use all its diplomatic power to de-escalate the situation and allow democracy to prevail.” Amid the rising political uncertainty, people in Yangon, the country’s biggest city and commercial capital, had begun flying the NLD’s red flag from their balconies in solidarity with the governing party, while banners had also been erected in the streets declaring support for the elected government.
On the streets of Yangon, many places were closed but street markets were packed with people buying supplies like rice, eggs, and vegetables. The city remained relatively quiet and calm, but many were alarmed by the developments. A 25-year-old woman who works at a packing company declined to be named said the network disruption meant she was unable to contact her family in eastern Shan State. “I’m very worried about my family and I cannot even go back to my hometown [because of COVID restrictions],” she said.
“This is not good, I’m worried about what it will mean. Things will get bad. People will probably protest and I honestly don’t know what will happen next.” The last week has been marked by rival protests in support of the NLD and the armed forces. “It’s at a critical juncture,” said Damien Kingsbury, a Myanmar expert at Deakin University in Australia. “It’s either the end of military involvement in Myanmar politics or it’s a coup. There’s no middle ground on this. This is crunch time.” Myanmar, once a British colony, was led by the military for decades before it began a transition to democracy in 2008. Aung San Suu Kyi is the only daughter of national independence hero Aung San, and spent years under the house arrest during the military regime.