Democratic Erosion and a Coup in Myanmar
Myanmar, or Burma, is a Southeast Asian country that neighbors Thailand. It is a nation now-controlled by its military. Prior to February 2021, Myanmar was a newly democratic government, one that was developing relationships with outside countries and modernizing internally. However, a coup organized by military chief Min Aung Hlaing, robbed the people of Myanmar of a life under democracy and freedom. This hostile military takeover is distinctly modern, as the military chief’s path to leadership involves Facebook and genocide.
The Rohingya Genocide has caused, “the largest forced human migration in recent history” (NYT). Upon that, the weapon used to rally the Buddhist majority in Myanmar in destroying the Muslim minority was one that appeared in the form of popular social media app, Facebook. Facebook’s entry correlated directly to a rise in violence, in part due to the fact that the application allowed users in Myanmar to use the app’s features without being charged money for a data plan. The military then use the social media site to spread propaganda that incited violence against the Muslim people located in Myanmar. The UN in 2018 specifically stated that Min Aung Hlaing should be prosecuted for war crimes in relation to the Rohingya Genoicide. However, the military chief stayed close to the power center of Myanmar’s democracy, biding his time, waiting to take over the country and become its dictator. To its northern border sits China who is a major investor in Myanmar and is also involved in infrastructure projects in the country, such as the construction of ports and pipelines. Under the cover of the war in Ukraine, China has continued to exert its support for the military in Myanmar. However, China’s support for Myanmar, including the 2021 coup and crackdown on protests, has been criticized by the international community and has strained relations with other countries. Another presumptive ally to Min Aung Hlaing is Russia, who has generally taken a cautious approach to the situation in Myanmar following the 2021 coup. However, Russia also is the main arms supplier of the current government in Myanmar, and lends its support as much as China does.
Myanmar’s former leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had won the election directly prior to the coup. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), had come to lead the government in 2016. Before the 2016 election in Myanmar, the government was a military dictatorship that ruled the country for over 50 years. The military party in Myanmar, also known as the Tatmadaw, has traditionally been a dominant political force in the country. The Tatmadaw has a history of suppressing political opposition and civil society, and has been accused of committing human rights abuses, including against ethnic minorities.,
After winning the election in 2020, the NLD was met with false claims of voter fraud by the military and Min Aung Hlaing. This led to the eventual coup. But it was the spreading of misinformation along with a murderous war criminal at the helm that ultimately led to the mass arrests of key NLD figures. As of November 2022, former leader Aung San Suu Kyi is being held prisoner in a remote jungle, inside of a concrete structure with no windows. The cell phone towers surrounding her location have been reportedly removed to prevent any photo evidence of her being held there. In fact, on the night of the coup, the military cut off internet access in Myanmar, including access to Facebook, which had been the majority of the country’s source of information. The media overall has faced increased censorship and persecution by the military government. Many journalists and media outlets have been arrested, threatened, or shut down, and there have been reports of intimidation and violence against those who report on the protests and demonstrations against the coup. Disabling media outlets, radio broadcasts, and the overall spread of information during a coup by a violent dictator led to the people of Myanmar going to bed on a Sunday night with freedom, and waking up Monday morning with those freedoms stripped away.
The internal reaction in Myanmar to the genocide of the Rohingya minority and the 2021 coup has been complex and varied. Many people within the country, including civil society organizations and ethnic minority groups, have strongly condemned the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya and have called for accountability and justice. At the same time, there has been significant support for the military and the coup within the country, particularly among some nationalist groups and hardline Buddhists who view the military as a protector of the country’s sovereignty and traditional values. The ongoing protests and demonstrations against the coup have also been met with violence and repression by the military.
The spread of propaganda in organizing the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, which in turn created over one million refugees; as well as the military coup that toppled the short lived democracy that had opened Myanmar up to global relevancy, led to the country being on the no-travel list due to civil unrest and armed conflict. The country has been set back in an exponential manner in regards to its progress towards being a successful democratic nation. Its people suffer at the hands of a power-hungry military dictator, and the opposition remains imprisoned in horrible conditions.