Political Observation - Myanmar Coup D’état

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - Myanmar Coup D’état

The Burmese army carried out a coup d’état on Monday 1 February 2021 that resulted in toppling president Win Myint and arresting prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi along with other leading figures of her party. The army appointed vice-president Myint Swe in an acting capacity and declared a one-year state of emergency.

The media office of the Myanmar army mentioned in its first comment following the coup that the coup leader, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, informed his new cabinet during its first meeting on Tuesday 2 February that “the army’s decision to seize power was inevitable”, following the complaints against election fraud.

The Burmese army had hinted just before the elections at the beginning of November 2020 at its intention to destroy the democratic process initiated by Hilary Clinton in 2011, following a series of understandings, pressures and tempting Indian and Japanese projects. Consequently, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was warmly welcomed at the White House and whose biography became the subject of a film in 2011 with a view to promote her before the masses of Myanmar, acceded to power in 2015 after she had been under house arrest.

Soon after the National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Aung San Suu Kyi was announced as the winner of the November 2020 elections, the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party contested the results and the army threatened to take action against what it described as election-rigging. Meanwhile, the Union Election Commission dismissed the claims of the army and the opposition. On 30 January, the army announced that it “would protect the constitution and act according to the law”; and this was translated into its putsch against the authority two days later and its imposition of a one-year state of emergency. The army justified its action via its affiliated media outlets by claiming that the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s failure to postpone the November elections were some of the reasons why the state of emergency was declared. The Burmese top brass was banking on Aung San Suu Kyi’s slumping popularity due to the damage to her image at an international level following her stance on the Rohingya issue; the Nobel committee received several calls for stripping her of her prize, while other institutions, including the EU, have stripped her of their honorary awards. However, this did not prevent the West, whose interests take precedence over all other values, from denouncing the coup under the pretext of protecting democracy.

US president Joe Biden commented that "The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack." He urged the Burmese army to “relinquish power they have seized”. Meanwhile, Facebook was quick to ban a TV channel affiliated to the army in Myanmar following the coup.

For his part, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said it was “a clear violation of the country’s constitution and an attempt by the military to overturn the will of the Myanmar people and their strong attachment to democracy” adding, “The European Union expects that the safety of the citizens of both Myanmar and of its Member States be ensured at all times and will consider all options at its disposal to ensure that democracy prevails.” The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, denounced the coup and said the “developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar”. China for her part described Myanmar as a “friendly” state, while Western media described it as a Chinese satellite state. Beijing commented by saying it was “monitoring [the] events and calling on all sides to respect the constitution.”

It is clear from Russia and China’s apprehensions towards the UN Security Council’s joint statement calling on the Burmese army to adhere to the democratic system and lift the state of emergency, and from the domestic facts and international reactions, coupled with the US media outlets’ focus on the issue of “human rights”, the visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to Myanmar before the recent events and his meeting with the army chief who expressed his gratitude to China and his support for her policies towards Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Uighur province, and the recent visit of the Russian defence minister Sergey Shoygu to Myanmar, where he signed a contract to supply the Burmese army with advanced Russian weapons and military equipment in exchange for special facilities giving Russian naval vessels access to Myanmar’s seaports, it is clear from all this that the coup of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing had been planned since November, just as Biden won the US presidential election in America, as a precaution against the American standpoint towards the Burmese army chiefs who have been hampering the democratic transition, and against the Indo-American activity which attempts to hamper the ASEAN countries’ endeavour to conclude a code of conduct with Beijing on the South China Sea.

The results of the recent elections were frightening for the Burmese army because the 85% achieved by its arch enemy Aung San Suu Kyi and the 7% achieved by its close ally, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, do not reflect the size of the role the army plays in ruling matters; such a result opens the floodgates for redrafting the constitution and the hybrid system engineered by the army in order to secure its influence on the establishment, especially as the policy of openness towards democracy and the West, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, enjoys the backing of a movement within the armed forces. This is the movement that played a role in the agreement on power sharing with Aung San Suu Kyi. Hence, the results of November’s elections were disappointing for the army chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing. They had dashed his hopes of nominating himself for president after his imminent retirement from the army. On the other hand, the results reflected the overwhelming popularity and dominance of Suu Kyi’s party over its rival, the Union Solidarity and Development Party on which the army had been banking.

This is why Gen. Hlaing exploited a constitutional loophole allowing the army to intervene in political life in the 2008 constitution and carried out a coup against Suu Kyi to prevent her from taking office after he had become certain that he would not narrow the popularity gap with her party and win the elections. This would have also allowed the movement of the military leaders supporting democratic reform to dominate the military leadership, thus leading to the erosion of Chinese influence in Myanmar and undermining her political model of governance and her interests, such as oil and gas pipelines and the Road and Belt initiative, especially in the forthcoming phase in which the US, under the new administration, has adopted democracy as the cornerstone of confronting China and Russia. This was alluded to by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his reply to a question on China in which he said it would be hard to compete with China when her system seemed more stable in comparison with the chaotic American system.

It is well known that Myanmar is one of the battlefields of systems and interests between the US, the sponsor of world democracy, and the hybrid communist system of China. Myanmar is also considered an area of intervention and tension through which America seeks to exert pressure on China, exactly like in the areas of border clashes between India and China, North Korea and South Korea, and the Uighur issue, especially as the rise of democracy in Myanmar 10 years ago was a significant breakthrough for America on the Chinese front, and a major accomplishment for former president Barack Obama, vice-president Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, engineered by Hilary Clinton thanks to her pledges of economic aid and sanctions’ alleviation.

Nevertheless, the criminal leaders of the Burmese army, who were loyal to China, did not sit idly by but used Rohingya Muslims as fuel to distort the image of the US-backed prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi. The army placed her in an awkward situation domestically and internationally through the ethnic cleansing campaign it conducted against the Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Suu Kyi was between the hammer and the anvil: if she had objected to the genocide against the Rohingya Muslims, she would have lost her popular backing from the extremist Buddhist majority, and if she had supported the genocide, she would have destroyed her nascent democracy from which she derived international support and exploited to curb the army’s role in ruling matters. However, Suu Kyi’s Western-backed performance in the Rohingya issue and her success in gaining the support of the masses thwarted the army’s endeavour and led it to move and carry out this military coup.

The US is expected to exert significant international pressure on the Burmese army’s top brass and exploit the coup to incite the Burmese masses against the military regime, and to encourage the peoples of the region to move against the totalitarian regimes in Cambodia and Thailand in order to promote democracy through which her agents would accede to power, accentuate the flaws of the Chinese ruling system, and lead a worldwide campaign to lay siege to it.

America will undoubtedly benefit from the coup to promote Biden’s agenda pertinent to the Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative and strengthen the partnerships between the countries of the region and the US, and thus containing China and supporting the Quad Alliance founded by Trump against China, comprising of the US, Japan, Australia and India who endeavours to execute with Japan the projects of transit routes linking south India with its northeast via Burmese lands, in addition to establishing links with Thailand.

America may also harness the event to expand the area of tension surrounding China by encouraging the Rohingya to take up arms and exploiting them in armed operations to incite Islamic public opinion against China who backs the savage Burmese regime, in order to exert further pressure on her and hamper her support for the leaders of the coup.

As for the Burmese top brass accused of genocide, they are banking on Chinese support, and on compelling Suu Kyi to agree to new terms leading to restoring their role in ruling matters, in addition to their attempt to harness the situation to negotiate a lifting of the US sanctions against them.

21 Jumada al-Akhirah 1442h
3 February 2021