Myanmar Coup: What does the future hold for the Burmese people?

Apr. 19, 2021, 05:50 PM.

Since the coup on February 1st 2021, more than 600 people have died in Myanmar while standing up against the military dictatorship. The junta has imposed strict control over local media outlets.
The current situation there bears much semblance to what happened in Gwangju in May 1980. In their democratic struggle, protesters are putting their lives at risk. What does the future hold for them? To deepen our readers’ understanding, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa will publish special reports written by local journalists- Saw Yan Naing and his colleagues. Saw Yan Naing is a veteran reporter who has written for The Irrawaddy, BBC Burmese, Global Investigative Journalism Network, and more. - Editor’s Note
By Saw Yan Naing
▲'Young Protesters also known as ‘Generation Z’ launched anti-military protest better known as Civil Disobedience Movement in downtown Yangon, Myanmar in February 2021. (Saw Yan Naing)
More than 600 people including children fighting against Burmese military troops in Myanmar died since a coup February 1 due to the crackdown of the military troops. However, they seem to be not to give up anytime soon. Protesters from different layers of society have peacefully took street and called for a release of detained elected leaders including Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. They called on the junta to return power to democratically elected government.
However, as time goes by and situation get worse with more violence, ultimate goal of the
Burmese people who have been taking to the streets since the coup is more than just demand of the release of the detained politicians and activists. They are fighting for a bad system that steals their rights, freedom and their future.
A bitter rivalry between the two most powerful figures are destroying the hopes and dreams of its people. The writing has been on the wall since last year.

Battle between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Military Elite

Last year, in mid-August 2020, Myanmar held its fourth Union Peace Conference in its capital Naypyidaw, north of Yangon. The Conference, also called the 21 st Century Panglong, sought to bring together government representatives and ethnic armed groups to resolve disputes that derailed the nationwide peace process in 2019.
But instead of talking about peace, instead of fostering an air of mutual respect and
understanding, a war of words took hold of the event. On one side was military chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who accused ethnic groups of being against preceding governments, and the stakeholders of the peace process for not being honest.
On the other side was democracy leader and icon Aung San Suu Kyi, standing State Counselor. She turned the tables on the armed forces, saying that the “bad political culture” of stakeholders relying on military strength for political gain needs to be eliminated. Observers, including ethnic leaders who were in attendance, said that it was a battle between Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military elites.
An academic, who was also present at the peace conference but has asked to withhold their identity, made a bold prediction: this friction between the country’s two most powerful figures would eventually cause Myanmar’s powder keg politics to explode into conflict, taking many lives and undoing years of peacebuilding.
Political insiders – journalists and Ministers of Parliament (MPs) in Naypyidaw – say that Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing have been testing the waters of power sharing for years, but the mutual animosity was too strong. Both of them were too stubborn, too ambitious, too proud to work with each other.
Their relationship was so bad that according to a veteran Naypyidaw politician, the two wouldn’t even meet, but would instead send representatives to talk it out on their behalf. The source requested for anonymity for safety reasons.
While in power, Aung San Suu Kyi initially held four ministerial positions in the government: minister of energy, minister of education, foreign minister, and minister in the President’s office. She eventually gave up the first two, but nevertheless still held incredible political sway.
At one point she was chairperson of both the National Peace and Reconciliation Center (NRPC) and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC). On top of all of this, she was also named as the State Counselor, which gave her as much stature as the Prime Minister.
Even some NLD members thought this was excessive. Some criticized her for seemingly going solo and for holding too many high-ranking government posts.
The creation of the State Counsellor position was particularly contentious. It rankled the military so much that a legislative member denounced the post as unconstitutional and refused to take part in the vote for its creation. In April 2016, the parliament ultimately voted the position through.
Brigadier General Maung Maung, a military representative at that time, denounced the outcome as “bullying”. U Ko Ni, legal advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, was widely known to be the brain behind the creation of the State Counsellor position. He was gunned down in 2017 at Yangon International Airport, an operation that many believe the military was behind.
The tug-of-war over power had already devolved into violence and bloodshed at least once. It shouldn’t have been a stretch to think that it could happen again.

Military Privilege under the Democratic Government

The military regime also enjoyed privilege under the NLD government as they were automatically granted 25 percent of parliament seats, according to the constitution which was written by the military’s handpicked lawyers in 2008.
Apart from 25 percent in the parliament, the constitution also makes sure the military keeps control of three key ministries such as Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Border and Ministry of Home Affairs. The military also has a privilege to appoint a vice-president. Myanmar has two vice-presidents and one president.
Apart from its power in politics, the military and its relatives and associates also owned two giant conglomerates such as Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) also known as U Paing company. Both companies provide much of their revenue directly to military officers and the military itself.
In the mining sector, the MEHL controls the largest number of jade and ruby licences, according to a report by Justice for Myanmar, a website focus on military business.
The junta’s leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s son, daughter and daughter-in-law also owned business from resorts, construction, telecommunication, film industries, medical supply business to restaurants and luxury gyms, according to the report.

Tug-of-War Leading up to the Coup

On February 1, 2021, the international community, along with the Burmese themselves, were caught off-guard when the armed forces announced a coup on Myawaddy TV, the military-owned broadcast channel. But in the days leading up to the coup, sources say that many people already knew what was about to happen.
Sources from MPs, the diplomat community, and the media said that representatives from both the military and the NLD met to negotiate demands from the Tatmadaw (the official name of Myanmar’s armed forces) on January 28. In particular, the military was raising questions about the recent elections, which took place last November 2020, where the NLD dominated. According to them, there were too many irregularities for the Tatmadaw to ignore. They wanted a recount of votes and to hold another election, according to sources in Naypyidaw.
The NLD wouldn’t give in, and the talks fell apart. At that point, the coup had already been decided, according to journalists. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD were also aware that the coup was on the horizon. Burmese media outlet The Irrawaddy reported that she held a series of meetings with her party members at her residence on January 28, where they discussed objections to the Tatmadaw’s demands—and what could happen if they rejected them.
When Myawaddy TV aired the announcement on February 1, the coup was well past its climax. In the early hours of the same day, it turned out that the military had taken under custody high-profile politicians and community leader, Aung San Suu Kyi among them.
The military and its proxy party, USDP, claim vote irregularity as their reason for the coup. But many observers see the claim is just an excuse because the junta can’t state the coup if the president doesn’t announce a state of emergency. But the military announced state of emergency by itself and kicked out the president and appointed a new one, which is against the constitution. 

Over 600 Civilians Killed Since the Coup

More than 600 people died so far according to media and human rights watchdog reports.  This has only galvanized the movement and fanned the flames of international outrage. At this rate, the angrier protesters are more determined to fight for their futures.
Sources familiar with the situation said that many activists went to areas of ethnic armed
groups and received training. They received skills of medical treatments, home-made explosive devices, and other warfare skills. Some already returned to big cities and continued anti-junta movements. Thus, the anti-regime movement will unlikely die down easily, said the sources.
▲Young Protesters at Civil Disobedience Movement(CDM) in downtown Yangon, Myanmar in February 2021. (Saw Yan Naing)
Aye, a protester in Yangon said, “young people [Generation Z] want to fight until the collapse of the junta. They won’t give up. Even if the junta release the detained politicians and activists and compromise with them, the young people won’t stop their fight. They won’t accept the military is in power.” Generation Z is a group of digital-savvy young people who play key roles and led anti-military regime protests across the country. 
“We can’t lose again. This is the last fight. If we lose again, we will lose our freedom, our dream, and our future. We don’t want to live under military regime again,” said Ko Phyo, a protester in Yangon, adding that the civil disobedience movement (CDM) is the hope of the people of Myanmar.
“Many civilians from different layers who join the CDM don’t hope for political gain, but take part in the movement purely because they don’t want to live under the military regime again. They suffered and know what is like living under the junta,” Ko Phyo added.
Under the military regime from 1962 to 2010, democracy has suffered greatly. Dissidents, activists, media workers live in fear while ordinary people struggle for daily survival. Some end up in jail and house arrest while others fled Myanmar and exiled in neighboring countries and elsewhere. Civilians in ethnic regions in rural areas were forced to fled home and sought for refuge in neighboring countries due to military attacks. Civilians in urban areas left the country to study or work as migrant workers in neighboring countries.

What Does the Future Hold for Myanmar?

It’s probably too late for a compromise between NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta’s Min Aung Hlaing. It will have to be one or the other. Finally, the brutal rivalry will have to see its conclusion.
As the military regime known as State Administration Council (SAC) announced that it imposed state of emergency for one year before holding an election and return the power to a winning party, the activities of anti-military regime will likely persist until February 2022, according to political analysts. Activists, however, said that it very much depends on the brutality of the military troops.
Political observers believe that the junta wants to control the current chaotic situation no later than mid-2021 so that they can plan for an election. However, the protesters also will try to continue its activities in any mean they can, said the observers.
Observers said that the military regime, SAC will still hold onto power after the next election. The regime and its proxy party, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will continue to be in power and rule the country like they did in the past before Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD) came into power. 
Before the NLD won a landslide victory in 2015 and rule the country until 2020, the country was led by Thein Sein, a former Burmese general from USDP. With the back of the military, the USDP dominated the parliament while unelected military representatives took 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. The junta is likely to create an administration in which observers described it “Thein Sein’s government style.” The regime likely to pick a President it trusted and enjoy a huge privilege under the next government.
Min Aung Hlaing has no plans of losing. Before the waves civil unrest swell into a tidal wave of revolutionary action, the junta leader is laying down the groundwork for his political future.
He formed 11-member State Administration Council (SAC) which included some hand-picked representatives from other political parties and individuals with ethnic background. According to observers, this is his way of saying that his leadership and administration will be inclusive.
Mahn Nyein Maung, is a former executive member of the Karen National Union and ran under the Karen People Party in the last elections. He is on the SAC, representing the Karen ethnic group. Thet Thet Khaing, chairperson the People’s Pioneer Party, is also an SAC member and was named minister of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement.
The SAC also counts among its rank former members of the NLD who, unsatisfied with their party’s performance, had decided to leave.
The SAC also formed a seven-member advisory board that includes civilians, including Dr. Ngun Cung Lian, a US-educated, US citizen ethnic Chin who had also served as legal counsel for the now-dissolved Myanmar Peace Center.
On the day the coup was announced, the SAC said that Myanmar would be put under a state of emergency for a year, and at its end, there would be an election. The junta, they say, would be glad to hand over power to whoever wins in those polls.
But by that point, analysts and activists say it will have been too late. The table will be stacked so starkly in the Min Aung Hlaing’s favor that there would be no way for him to truly, genuinely lose. It’s likely that he will create a powerful position for himself – perhaps President – or assign it to someone he trusts.
He wants to make sure that he’s safe before he steps down as commander-in-chief, the analysts added. “Dictators will never step down unless they feel safe.”