Daily demonstrations have been taking place in towns and cities across Myanmar for the past month and a half, since the military took control of the Southeast Asian nation in a coup on February 1.
Security forces, consisting of police and military personnel and led by coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, have reacted to protests with growing violence, launching a countrywide systemic crackdown that includes shooting unarmed demonstrators and imposing disappearances.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, at least 138 civilians, including children, have been killed since the coup. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 2,100 people have been arrested, including journalists, protestors, activists, government officials, trade unionists, authors, teachers, and civilians (AAPP). Activists, however, believe that both of these statistics are higher.
After seizing power, Min Aung Hlaing detained democratically elected officials, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, overthrew the ruling National League for Democracy government, and formed the State Administration Council as the country’s ruling junta. The commander-in-chief declared a one-year state of emergency, after which an election will be held, he said.
What you need to know about the situation is as follows.
The military justified its takeover by claiming widespread voter fraud during the general election in November 2020, which Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) did poorly in the vote, dashing expectations among some of its military supporters that it would win power democratically — or at the very least have a say in who would be the next president. The military then alleged there were more than 10.5 million cases of “potential fraud, such as non-existent voters,” without presenting evidence, and demanded that the election commission publicly disclose the final polling results.
It was only the second democratic election since the previous junta launched a series of reforms in 2011, after a half-century of authoritarian military rule plunged Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, into poverty and isolation. According to analysts, the military’s takeover was motivated by a desire to maintain control of the government, which would see another five years of change under the NLD and Suu Kyi’s second term.
Millions of citizens of all ages and social backgrounds have taken to the streets every day across the world, angry that the previous decade of reforms, which saw political and economic liberalization and the transition to a hybrid democracy, would be reversed.
Protesters are demanding that the military relinquish authority to civilians and be kept completely accountable, as well as the release of Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders. The military-drafted 2008 constitution must be repealed, and a federal democracy must be created, according to Myanmar’s many ethnic minority groups, who have long fought for greater autonomy for their lands.