A decade after handing over power to a civilian government, the Myanmar military announced on Monday that it had once again taken over the reins of the country.
It is a new coup that has brought back memories, in addition to causing fear in a country that, before beginning its democratic transition a decade ago, endured almost 50 years of governments led by oppressive military regimes.
The arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians brought to mind those days that many Burmese believed they had left behind.
Suu Kyi and her party, the National League of Democracy (NLD), led the country for the past five years after being elected in 2015, in the freest and fairest election the country had experienced in 25 years.
The party was expected to begin its second term on Monday.
Behind the scenes, the military has maintained relatively tight control in Myanmar – also known as Burma – thanks to the Constitution granting it a quarter of the seats in Parliament, as well as control of the country’s most important ministries.
This raises the following questions: why did you decide to take power right now, and what’s next?
“Trumpian” fraud accusations
The “why now” can be easily explained, as the BBC’s Southeast Asian correspondent Jonathan Head points out: this Monday morning should have been the first session of Parliament, which in turn would have enshrined the (electoral) result .
They didn’t let that happen.
In the November elections last year, the NLD won with more than 80% of the votes, its popularity held even in the face of multiple charges of genocide against the Muslim Rohingya population in that country.
Backed by the military leadership, the opposition began a smear campaign with allegations of fraud.
The interim president, who has just been appointed, repeated these accusations to justify the imposition of a one-year state of emergency.
“The UEC (electoral commission) failed to resolve the enormous irregularities in the voter lists in the multiparty general elections that took place on November 8, 2020,” said Myint Swe, a former general who was vice president of the country.
However, there is very little evidence to support the electoral fraud theory.
“Obviously Aung San Suu Kyi won a resounding electoral victory,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Asia, told the BBC.
“There have been allegations of electoral fraud. It is something trumpian: fraud allegations without evidence. “
Still, Robertson describes the takeover as “inexplicable.”
“Did (the election) mean a loss of power? The answer is no.”
The “mother” vs the “father” of the nation
In the November elections, the military-backed Union, Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won only a fraction of the vote, but the military still has a large influence over the government thanks to controversial Constitution of 2008, drawn up during the government of the military junta.
Not only does it give the military a quarter of parliamentary seats automatically, it also gives them control of three key ministries: Internal Affairs, Defense, and Border Affairs.
As long as the Constitution remains the same, the military retains some control.
But could the NLD, with its majority, having amended the Cconstitution?
It is unlikely, according to Jonathan Head, as that would require the support of 75% of Parliament, something almost impossible when the army controls at least 25%.
Former journalist Aye Min Thant suggests that there may be another reason to explain the actions that marked the day of the coup: shame by the military.
“They did not expect to lose,” he tells the BBC from Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. “People whose families are in the military must have voted against them.”
But of course there is much more to all of this.
“You need to understand how the army views its position in the country,” Aye Min Thant continues.
“The international media is quite used to referring to Aung San Suu Kyi as the ‘mother’. The army considers itself the ‘father’ of the nation “.
As a result, he feels a sense of “obligation and entitlement” when it comes to governing, and in recent years, as the country has become more open to international trade, he has not liked what he has seen.
“They see foreigners especially as a danger.”
The pandemic and international pressure on the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya in the November elections may have emboldened the military to act now, suggests Aye Min Thant.
Even so, the news took her by surprise.
What does the future hold for this Asian nation?
Experts are not sure why exactly the military decided to act now, as there is apparently not much they can gain.
“It is worth remembering that the current system is tremendously beneficial to the militaryIt has full autonomy of command, considerable international investment in its business interests and political coverage of civilians for war crimes, “explains Gerard McCarthy of the Asian Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.
“Taking power for one year, as announced, will isolate non-Chinese international partners, damage the commercial interests of the military, and provoke growing resistance from millions of people who put Suu Kyi and the NLD in power for another period of government “.
He believes that perhaps the military hopes to improve the USDP’s position in future elections, but the risks of such a move “are significant.”
HRW’s Phil Robertson notes that the move puts Myanmar in danger of becoming a “pariah state” once again, and at the same time enrage the locals.
“I don’t think the people of Myanmar are going to take this easy,” he adds. “They don’t want to go back to a military future. They see Suu Kyi as a bulwark against a return to military power.”
And while there is still hope that this can be resolved through negotiation, he says, if the Burmese people start protesting massively this could lead to a major crisis.
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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.