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  • Writer's pictureSovena Ngeth

Myanmar Military Coup: Explained

Updated: May 22, 2021

Demonstrators in Myanmar
Demonstrators in Myanmar (AP Photo)

What is a coup?

Coup d'état is the French term translating to "blow of state." The phrase means overthrowing the government in a sudden removal, usually in an illegal or unconstitutional seizure of power by a political faction.

Myanmar Background

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia and is referred to as the Golden Land. The country is smaller than Texas and home to about 54 million people. Burmese is the official language spoken, and the main religion is Buddhism. Many ethnic groups reside in the country.

British colonial rule transformed the society in 1885; with it came social, economic, cultural, and administrative changes. Burma became a province of India in 1886, and even when the Burmese economy flourished, the wealth was only distributed among British firms, Anglo-Burmese citizens, and migrants from India. On March 2, 1962, senior military officers staged a coup d'état and declared Burma a socialist state. Protests followed the coup and led to violent retaliation from the military, including the horrifying act of blowing up the Students Union building and killing over 100 students.

From 1962-2011, the military government refused to hand over power and changed its name in 1989 from Burma to Myanmar. The two terms are interchangeable, but many Burmese citizens prefer "Burma" because they do not want to acknowledge the name change by an unelected military government. In 2011, a civilian government was finally established after the National League for Democracy won the election. Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of this organization and worked hard for nearly 15 years between 1989 to 2010 by organizing rallies. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest. In 2015, she led the National League for Democracy party to victory in Myanmar's first contested election in 25 years. She has been detained again after Myanmar's most recent military coup, and the now in power, military chief Min Aung Hlaing, declared a state of emergency for one year.

Myanmar Military Coup

The military staged its most recent coup on February 1 after the National League for Democracy won. They claimed widespread election fraud, and the coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open. Min Aung Hlaing is the commander in chief of Myanmar's military, and his power stems from years of substantial political influence. As the figure in charge, he has arrested Ms. Suu Kyi and charged her with illegally possessing imported walkie-talkies, among other National League for Democracy officials. Many nations have condemned him and reinstated sanctions for his alleged role in the attacks on ethnic minorities.

He justified the takeover by declaring the military is seeking real democracy and establishing it for the Burmese people. The military claims it will hold a "free and fair" election when the state of emergency is over. The protests have gotten increasingly violent, with the army firing water cannons and imposing curfews, and gathering restrictions.

Recent Coups Around the World

United States: On January 6, 2021, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building upon the news of Joe Biden's election victory. Many were Donald Trump supporters and followed his encouragement for the insurrection after a flurry of angry tweets. Hundreds of individuals broke in by smashing windows and storming in, resulting in 2 deaths and several police officers' hospitalizations. It is important to note that civilians, not the military, staged the formidable actions. Still, President Trump incited his followers to march on the Capitol building, reiterating that the election had been rigged and "stolen" by the Democratic party. Although this cannot be officially defined as a coup, the President-encouraged event will mark United States history.

Cameroon: In 2020, over 100 people were kidnapped right before Cameroon's election on February 9, 2020. Also, separatists burned properties, and voters were threatened. State security did not adequately protect civilians from armed separatists but instead abused them further. Separatists have been attacking candidates and voters alike. Cameroon's Anglophone regions have been going through a cycle of violence that has already claimed over 3,000 lives. Human rights have been abused by both armed separatists and the government forces.

Bolivia: Elected president, Evo Morales, was overthrown by the military on November 10, 2019. For 21 days prior, civil protests occurred following the disputed Bolivian general election and alleged irregularities in the electoral process. Trade unions, Bolivian military, and police officers alike asked Morales to resign, and many other high-level politicians left as well, fearing for their families' safety.

Myanmar Protests

In recent updates, Ms. Suu Kyi is now charged with violating the country's Natural Disaster Law. Her next court appearance is scheduled to take place on March 1. Many are calling for her release, as well as the release of other elected officials being detained.

The military announced up to 20 years in prison for protestors opposing the coup and its leaders. Access to the internet was cut off and is now being restricted by blocking certain websites. Reports show police have been using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protestors. Burmese monks are a part of this group of protesters, but the military has stepped up its response. With increasingly violent clashes, civilians have formed night-watch groups to protect each other.

Condemnation has been expressed by the U.K., E.U., and Australia. U.S. President Joe Biden threatened to reinstate sanctions, and the U.N. Secretary-General believes the coup is a "blow to democratic reforms."

What Can We Do to Help?

The state of emergency has made humanitarian access difficult for Myanmar civilians who are suffering as a result. Several international organizations have suspended or reduced operations to evaluate the risks for their staff. Aid groups are experiencing severe restrictions, including no access to displacement sites and villages. Many organizations and individuals are assembling to demand the Myanmar military to end their violence against the country [here]. The International Rescue Committee provides limited support while assessing the situation and is seeking donations to assist civilians severely affected by this coup.

In the upcoming days, thousands are predicted to continue protests despite the fear of violence and threats from the military. Myanmar's military misrule has disrupted democracy, but the people will not accept this quietly.



Sovena Ngeth is a Philadelphia-based writer who is passionate about using her words for change. She is also a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.

Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.


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