The mass upsurge in Myanmar (Burma) against the military takeover has engaged people from all walks of life, who have been out on the streets in recent weeks protesting against the brutal suppression of democracy.
The Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) staged the coup on 1st February, the day the new parliament was to open, after the general election in November 2020.
The election had resulted in a landslide victory for the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD). However, the army declared the results to be illegal and deposed President Win Myint and State Counsellor Suu Kyi. They and other NLD leaders have been arrested and detained.
The armed forces had ruled Myanmar (Burma) for decades since the military coup of 1962. The movement for democracy achieved a breakthrough in 1981 but it was brutally crushed by the army. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for sixteen long years.
After much pressure, the army conceded some powers, and a hybrid democratic system was put in place based on the 2008 Constitution adopted by the army. Under this system, the army still held key powers; 25 per cent of the seats in the two houses of parliament were reserved for military nominees.
For the first time, in 2015, the NLD contested the elections, winning over 80 per cent of the seats in the two houses. Suu Kyi could not assume the post of head of government, the constitution barring anyone with a foreign spouse from holding that office, so she was made a State Counsellor and was the de facto prime minister.
In the 8th November 2020 general election, the NLD improved its position by winning 258 out of the 310 seats in the House of Representatives and 138 of the 168 seats in the House of Nationalities. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) only gained 26 seats and 5.9 per cent of the vote in the lower house.
Frustrated by this result, the armed forces declared an emergency under a constitutional provision and said it would last for one year after which fresh elections would be held.
The vested interests exercising political and economic power through the armed forces’ elite were getting threatened by the growing electoral legitimacy of the NLD and its leader.
The higher echelons of the armed forces have built up a powerful network of patronage and business interests in the country. Some of the lucrative sectors like precious gems, timber and mineral resources are controlled and plundered by enterprises run by generals and former members of the officer corps.
The armed forces had thought that the USDP would gain enough strength to checkmate the NLD and Aung Suu Kyi, not expecting that, in both the 2015 and 2020 elections, the NLD scored over 80 per cent of the seats in the non-military sector.
That the armed forces are completely isolated from the people has become evident in the recent protests. Significantly, the bulk of civil servants, health workers, power sector employees and railway workers have joined the mass protests and gone on strike.
Faced with the growing protests, the police and the army are now resorting to repressive tactics including firing on peaceful protestors. Hundreds have already been arrested and put in jail.
The return of military rule clearly further threatens the position of the Rohingya population in Myanmar (Burma), stripped of their citizenship and subject to human rights abuses since the push in the late 1970’s to expel them from Myanmar (Burma).
In giving our full backing to the progressive campaign for the return of democracy in Myanmar (Burma) Liberation will:-
- encourage progressive MPs to find ways to promote the return to democracy in Myanmar (Burma);
- call for an end to military rule and the restoration of democracy;
- demand the release of all detainees; and
- call for the safeguarding of the lives, human and democratic rights, and livelihoods of the Rohingya population as well as the state recognised ethnic minority groups like the Chin and Kachins in Myanmar (Burma).
In an impressive show of solidarity the people of Myanmar (Burma) are bravely facing the might of the military. For decades, the people of Myanmar (Burma) were under the brutal heel of a military dictatorship. They have now resolved not to allow this to happen again. They deserve our ongoing support and solidarity.
Statement Agreed at Liberation AGM 13 March 2021
Photo: Protests in Mandalay, Myanmar (Creative Commons/ Kantabon)