- BBC World News
It was considered a pariah state when, between 1962 and 2011, it lived under a harsh military regime. After a brief and weak democratic transition, he is now at risk of reverting to his dark past.
The Myanmar army – also known as Burma – on Monday staged a coup and detained the leader and noblewoman of Peace Aung San Suu Kyi, considered by many to be “the mother of the country.”
“It felt a bit like a already seen, as if we were going back to the starting point, “a 25-year-old girl who preferred not to give her name told the BBC.
But this is not the first time that the military leadership has taken power by force. In fact, what happened on Monday brought back bitter memories of sad episodes in the early 1960s and another in 1988.
All when Myanmar began to forge a path in the world with a more open civil government and a leader who at the time was seen as a great fighter for human rights.
The eternal conflict
Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is one of the most hermetic nations in the world, despite sharing borders with China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos and India, and also having a huge ethnic and linguistic diversity.
Most of its 54 million inhabitants speak Burmese, although other languages are also spoken throughout the country.
It separated from British India in 1937, becoming a separately administered colony, before being devastated after the Japanese invasion during World War II.
But its history as an independent republic began in 1948, when the United Kingdom granted it independence.
The nascent country would be called the Union of Burma and its problems began precisely with independence, which occurred in the middle of an internal conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of dead, which still continues and which now, seven decades later, stands out as the longest ongoing civil war.
The conflict has been largely ethnically motivated; various armed groups are fighting the Myanmar armed forces for their right to self-determination.
And it is that in Myanmar there are about 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, but other peoples, such as rohingya muslims, they are not.
In recent years, the plight of this ethnic group has become clear and the United Nations has described it as a “stateless” and “virtually friendless” people within the other communities of the Asian nation whose population is predominantly Buddhist.
Capital: Nay Pyi Taw
Surface676,552 square kilometers.
First languageBurmese, but there are other minority languages.
Life expectancy64 years (men), 69 years (women).
Most populous cityYangon
Source: United Nations.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), since 2007, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country.
They are not considered citizens, because they are not recognized as an ethnic group and since 1948 they have been victims of torture, neglect and repression. The state prohibits them from marrying or traveling without permission from the authorities and they have no right to own land or property.
But this is not the only group that is not recognized by the Burmese authorities. In the list of the 135 official ethnic groups in the country, neither are the Panthay (Muslims of Chinese origin), the Gurkha (originally from Nepal), the Indian Burmese and the Chinese Burmese.
After independence, the independence leader U Nu ruled until 1958, when he resigned and was replaced by a provisional Executive headed by the army chief of staff, General Ne Win.
His military government ran the country until general elections were held on February 6, 1960, in which the then-ex-president U Nu obtained almost 60% of the votes.
But his policy of establishing Buddhism as the state religion and his tolerance towards separatist movements they enraged the military and two years later, in 1962, U Nu was overthrown in a military coup led by Ne Win, who abolished the federal system and inaugurated “the Burmese Road to Socialism.”
Ne Win nationalized the economy, banned independent newspapers, and formed a state whose only political party it was the Burma Socialist Program Party.
And in 1974 a new Constitution came into force, transferring the power of the armed forces to a Popular Assembly headed by Ne Win and other ex-military men.
Uprising 8888 and first arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi
After years of repression, finally the devaluation of the currency was the last straw and triggered student protests against the government in 1987.
These protests were multiplying little by little and on August 8 of the following year the anti-government demonstrations also known as Uprising 8888.
This wave of unrest left thousands of people dead and led to the creation of the State Council for Peace and Development (SPDC), a military junta that ruled the country until 2010.
The SPDC (then called Slorc) declared martial law, arrested thousands of people, including defenders of democracy and human rights, changed the name to the country from Burma to Myanmar, as well as to its then capital, Rangoon, which became Yangon.
Another decision was precisely the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the hero of the country’s independence, General Aung San, who was assassinated in July 1947 when she was only 2 years old.
Today history seems to repeat itself.
The first civil government in half a century
Myanmar was ruled by the armed forces from Uprising 8888 until 2011.
During all that time, the generals who led the country suppressed almost all dissident movements and were accused of serious human rights abuses, leading to the condemnation of many countries that applied international sanctions.
Gradual liberalization started in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government headed by veteran opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following year.
But the army’s operation against what they said were terrorists in Rakhine state since August 2017 – which led to Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh – damaged the government’s international reputation and highlighted the army’s continued control in Myanmar.
The United Nations called the episode a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Military control was confirmed when Aung San Suu Kyi and her government were overthrown in a military coup on Monday.
Since 2011, Myanmar’s media has been the subject of a gradual relaxation of strict state controls.
But, according to Reporters Without Borders, press freedom has not been a priority for the government that took office in 2016.
In fact, the state still controls the major stations and publications, and self-censorship is commonly practiced.
The Constitution gives political powers to the military
Similarly, in the November elections last year, the military-backed Union, Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won only a fraction of the vote, but the army continued to have great influence over the government thanks to the controversial 2008 Constitution, drawn up during the government of the military junta.
The Burmese Magna Carta not only gives the military a quarter of parliamentary seats automatically, but also gives them control of three key ministries: Internal Affairs, Defense and Border Affairs.
As long as the Constitution remained the same, the army was going to retain some control of the decisions that are made in the country. With this new coup, many fear that Myanmar will once again be the “pariah state” that it was for decades.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.