Explainer | Protests, Politics and the Path Forward for Myanmar
Resistance to the military is growing following the February’s coup, but the international community is running out of options to help restore democracy in Myanmar.
“I think the scale of the protests has taken the regime by surprise,” says Tan Hui Yee, Indochina bureau chief for The Straits Times. “Plus, there’s also been a general strike. The movement hopes to create an economic seizure that makes it impossible for the regime to function, or project the image that it is business as usual.”
Tan states that the young people, many who grew up through Myanmar’s political reforms of the early 2010s, are leading the path to resistance.
“They feel like the coup has robbed them of their future,” Tan says.
Tan states that the regime is becoming increasingly aggressive, using live munitions to disperse crowds and employing snipers, as well as reports of mass arrests and evidence of torture.
Tan says that the military are aiming to control Myanmar politics, even if “it’s from the back seat”, noting that the 2008 constitution allowed military control of three key ministries and guaranteed them a quarter of seats in Parliament, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party gained super majorities in elections, effectively shutting them out of power.
The military-backed party are aiming to change the electoral system to a proportional representation model, which would benefit them under the current constitution.
Meanwhile, the elected NLD lawmakers have set up the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw to represent the parliament that the military prevented from convening through the coup, and are seeking international recognition as the rightful government of Myanmar. Yet the dominance of the NLD party in this committee has sparked concerns in representatives of Myanmar's minority parties.
“ASEAN has offered to facilitate dialogue between all the stakeholders,” says Tan, “but ultimately ASEAN can only do so if there military gives its consent, and the military will only give its consent if it feels that ASEAN can protect its interests somehow.”
International sanctions from western nations are increasing, but Tan notes, “Myanmar’s top trading partners are not in the west but in countries like China, Thailand and Japan, so there is still a limit to what these sanctions can do.”
Foreign aid previously directed to Myanmar’s government might need to be redirected to NGOs, “but these groups are likely to be under greater [military] surveillance now.”
Tan Hui Yee is the Straits Times’ Indochina Bureau Chief, covering Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. She has been based in Bangkok since 2012. Prior to that, she was an enterprise writer, producing special reports on topics like social mobility, housing and the environment. Hui Yee’s explanatory work has won awards from the World Association of Newspapers and Publishers as well as The Society of Publishers in Asia. She is a 2016 US State Department IVLP fellow.
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