Another day, another dead democracy lying shattered at the feet of men’s ginormous egos, am I right ladies? The coup in Myanmar last week is just another example of the lengths to which old men are willing to go to recapture the power they lose to women with rights. They just have to butt in — typical patriarchy.
You know who’s a total hashtag girlboss though? Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a Nobel peace prize in 1991 for advocating for democratic reforms and free elections in the midst of a harsh military junta. She won the prize while on house arrest for the same reasons, and between 1989 and 2010, she spent 15 years in detention, before leading her party, the National League for Democracy, to a momentous electoral victory in 2015.
Since 2016, Suu Kyi has served as State Counsellor, a position that the NLD invented to allow the 75 year-old to effectively run the government in spite of the military drafted constitution that was specifically designed to limit her power. She also appeared before the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2019 to defend against accusations that her country had committed genocide, which it absolutely had, but y’know, Kamala Harris was a prosecutor in Oakland in the 90s, and JK Rowling hates trans people so not all feminist icons are perfect, okay?
Anyway, some analysts have suggested that this defense against accusations that Myanmar military atrocities including rape and torture have killed tens of thousands of members of the Rohingya Muslim minority ethnic group and forced over 700,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh (which is literally sinking into the Ocean, so you know they’re desperate), may have actually helped cement her popularity going into the November 2020 elections.
For context, the genocide was framed within Myanmar as a “counterinsurgency program” to target what the military, known as the Tatmadaw, said were Muslim extremists. The program was spurred on by propaganda that exacerbated ethnic tensions and gained popularity with the public through Facebook, adding yet another reason why Mark Zuckerberg is a supervillain and should be treated as such.
Regardless, and despite rapidly disappearing international support following her defense of the Tatmadaw on the international stage, Suu Kyi’s NLD party crushed the opposition and military proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, in a landslide win in November with a turnout that defied Covid-plagued expectations. But this is when the old junta boys started to get impatient.
From the moment the election results were announced, the Tatmadaw pulled a DJT and called into question the integrity of the election, alleging widespread fraud. The country’s independent election commission as well as international observers have vouched for results though, so I’m gonna be honest, I don’t believe the military on this one. Unless the voting software Myanmar used was also designed by Hugo Chavez or whatever the fuck Rudy Giuliani was on about for the entire month of December.
Fears of a coup swelled as the military continued to loudly complain about the results of the election and as its attempts to pursue a remedy for the invented frauds were stonewalled by NLD government officials. As time neared the start of the new session of parliament, which would have solidified the election results, the Tatmadaw commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, made his move.
It’s important to understand that when the military brass agreed to transition the junta into a partial democracy with proper elections and a civilian government, they never intended to fully cede power. Aung Hlaing was selected as commander in chief in 2011, when the military was restructuring to allow for the transition, and when he and the other generals wrote Myanmar’s new constitution in 2008, they included provisions that they thought would ensure their influence on governance would remain strong. They reserved 25% of the seats in parliament for the military, gave themselves control over certain governmental departments, and barred anyone with foreign family, like their arch-nemesis Suu Kyi, whose husband was British, from becoming president.
By the way, the NLD’s solution to that last clause — to just invent a new position for Suu Kyi to fil and still run the country — is hilarious. It’s like playing rock paper scissors with that one annoying kid that just makes up random objects that automatically beat whatever you throw out. “She’s not president, she’s state counsellor, and state counsellor automatically beats your stupid constitution, so there I win, give me all your Pokémon cards, pussy.”
So Hlaing, who was set to retire in June and had just had his hopes for the follow-up presidency stomped on, decided he had had enough of the whole free country business, and on February 1, he had Aung San Suu Kyi and several other high ranking NLD members including president Win Myint detained. Hlaing has said that the military will remain in power for the duration of a year-long state of emergency, at the end of which new elections can be held. And if you’re asking yourself if any of that is remotely legal, don’t worry because of course not. Under the same constitution that the orchestrators of this coup helped write, the only person who can declare a state of emergency is president Myint, and it would be hard for him to do that from house arrest.
Needless to say, very few people are pleased with this development. The last time that the people of Myanmar lived under a dictatorship was not that long ago, and Suu Kyi and others have warned that a dictatorship is right where this new state of emergency is headed. Many people remember what it was like to live under the old juntas, and protests sprung up immediately after the coup was announced.
Hints at broader suppression of human rights are already beginning to pop up as the military has begun limiting access to the internet and cracking down on journalists operating in the region, according to Human Rights Watch. The new regime has also banned gatherings of more than five people and broken up protests with the use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and, it was reported recently, live ammunition.
Myanmar citizens, who have been experiencing the benefits of free society for a decent amount of time now, don’t seem keen on giving up their rights without a fight. Residents of cities across the nation have been banging pots and pans outside of their windows every night at 8pm as part of a ritual to banish evil spirits and also scare the living shit out of any domestic animal in a five-mile radius. Bureaucrats have resigned en masse, including the entire Ministry of Welfare, and videos have emerged of police officers, who are employed by the army, switching sides and joining the protestors. Maybe Kendall Jenner showed up and offered one of them a Pepsi. Not the hero we needed, but the hero we deserved.
Anyway, observers have likened the scenes from Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon to an eerie Black Mirror episode, with offbeat protest rituals like the pots and pans thing, the distribution of thousands of red balloons, and protestors parading around in disney princess cosplays holding meme-y signs. It feels like the calm before the storm for people who know very well what the junta is capable of.
Hlaing's predecessors include a crazy mass murderer who killed 130 student protestors and blew up the student union building with dynamite, and a dictator who apparently counted astrologers among his top advisors like he was fucking Henry VIII and who wiped out a bunch of his own country’s currency in order to “replace them with bank notes that added up to nine.” So yeah, not too keen on going back down that road again, which is why the protests seem to be so popular.
The coup spells even worse news for Myanmar’s relentlessly and freely persecuted Rohingya minority, who are working on repatriating close to three quarters of a million of their displaced members. The military, who I’ll remind you was chiefly responsible for the ethnic cleansing in 2017, has vowed to now protect the minority ethnic and religious group, but activists are justifiably extremely worried for the safety of minorities in the region, even more than they were already.
Finally, the international community has responded with fairly universal condemnation except from China, which downplayed the events because of course it did. The Wall Street Journal reported that when Hlaing called a briefing with international diplomats, some attended the Zoom meeting with their cameras off. Way to fucking show them guys, sick diss, I bet they’ll be crying themselves to sleep after that.
Joe Biden announced new sanctions against the leaders of the coup as well as their economic interests, which are extensive as the military controls a large business empire in Myanmar that the UN has accused of facilitating forced labour and sexual violence. Youth leaders have called for boycotts of these businesses and workers have gone on strike.
While China took the brave stance of not giving a shit about what happened, analysts have suggested that the events present an opportunity for presidents Xi and Biden to forge a working diplomatic relationship right at the outset of the new administration. An unstable Myanmar threatens the stability of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which provides a unified front that makes it difficult for Western interests to take root too geographically close to Beijing. Also super creative acronym guys, it’s an association of Asian countries called ASEAN. Sick.
The point is that if the U.S. and China both have a vested interest in stability within Myanmar, both countries could wind up quietly working together, which, while it’s a nightmare for people who aren’t fans of state-sponsored genocide, is a rare blessing for people who aren’t fans of Cold Wars, so I don’t know, could be kind of a good tradeoff.
I think the takeaway from this story should just be that nothing in life makes sense. Myanmar people could go from dictatorship to genocidal democracy and back to dictatorship in like 10 years, the images from their protest movements look like they’re from an alternate universe where Disney World is run by an even more oppressive regime, the U.S. and China might agree on something, and the first moments of the coup were captured in the background of a dance instructor’s aerobics tutorial. Spare a thought for that woman, all she wanted to do was exercise and now she’s in the opening credits of every documentary about Myanmar from now until the end of history. Actually, spare a thought for the people who will come to harm from this coup and who will forever be introduced to future generation right after an iPhone video of a random lady dancing. This really is Black Mirror.