Myanmar’s universal anti-junta sentiment has no precedent

Image source: bdnews24

Protests against the Junta have extended to involve professionals from all walks of life and across major cities in Myanmar. With ethnic minorities voicing support for the urban protestors in Mandalay, Yangon and other areas, the current wave of protests has no past precedent. As all sides harden their positions, further deterioration seems imminent. 

In Myanmar, anti-junta sentiment has refused to ebb even as the post-coup d’état period enters its fifth month.  Protests in Myanmar, in opposition to the military coup on February 1, 2021, staged by General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw has been dubbed the ‘Spring Revolution.’ Protestors who are calling for the military to honor the results of the November 2020 elections are engaging in peaceful and nonviolent means to express their dissent. Donning red colour, which is associated with the National League for Democracy (NLD) the discontent has found expression in one of the largest popular Civil Disobedience Movements (CDM) ever staged in Myanmar. Professionals who are vital to the country’s economy are spearheading the CDM, refusing to return to work until the military returns the elected government to power.

The military boycott campaign has extended to labour strikes, a pot-banging movement, a red ribbon campaign and large rallies of public protests. netizens in Myanmar are voicing their protest through hashtags like #SayNototheCoup, #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, #SaveMyanmar, and #CivilDisobedience. In the midst of this, the farcical trial of Aung San Suu Kyi’s over “bogus, and politically motivated” charges began on June 14.

Image source: futurity.org

Chaos Follows Coup:

Myanmar is no stranger to military regimes. Since its liberation from the British in 1948, it has experienced four coups and over fifty years of direct military rule. The Junta has always taken control of the government to ostensibly rescue the country from political, administrative and economic disintegration, claiming to have prevented chaos. But this time chaos has followed the coup. And the wave of dissent, protests and that has followed the February 1 military takeover has to a degree surprised the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw has responded by internet and social media blackouts, the pursuit of arrests and criminal sentences against protesters and the violent use of force to suppress protests. With wireless broadband internet services cut, fixed-line connections are the only avenue to access the internet. In a Machiavellian move, the Tatmadaw has included NLD’s competing political parties from the Karen National Union,  National Democratic Force (a splinter group from the NLD), the Arakan National Party and the Mon Unity Party in the State Administration Council, which is Myanmar’s interim governing body formed on 2 February 2021.

The military has expanded the martial law to include ninety townships in thirty cities, including several urban townships in Yangon, Shwebo, Monywa, Sagaing, Kalay in Sagaing Region, Bago, and Pharsong in Kayah State, where significant protests had emerged.

The CDM, which started with a group of healthcare workers suspending cooperation with government agencies, has now attracted support from a broad range of professions like bankers, lawyers, teachers, and engineers. Doctors, nurses and medical students have marched and joined strikes to show their opposition to the military takeover that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government. Lakhs of public civil servants and others services have joined the so-called civil disobedience movement to boycott work, as a protest against the Junta. With the post-coup violence continuing to intensify in Myanmar, as many as 850 are reported to have been killed. Whether this blatant nationwide revolt against the military’s illegal takeover, will act as a revelation and lead to a course correction appears unlikely. With both sides hardening their positions further deterioration seems imminent. 

Ethnic groups across Myanmar have joined the chorus in opposition to the Tatmadaw:

Along with the three-finger salute, over the weekend on June 12-13 many protestors flooded Myanmar’s social media with pictures of themselves wearing black in posts tagged “#Black4Rohingya” showcasing solidarity with the plight of the Rohingya ethnic community. While the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya is most widely comprehended, there are other ethnic groups on the borderlands of Myanmar which for years been oppressed by the military. Under the present circumstances of nationwide protests where anti-Tatmadaw sentiments are being expressed across cities and social media platforms, the plight of ethnic groups like the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Chin are being acknowledged by majority Bamar Buddhist people. This soul searching among the Burmese, with some even apologizing on social media for not recognizing the ethnic struggles is beyond precedent.

The Karen National Union, the Committee for Shan State Unity, a coalition of Shan ethnic armed groups and political parties have issued statements announcing public support for the ongoing protests, and calling for the abolition of the 2008 constitution and restoration of civilian-led government.

While the ethnic minorities have voiced support for the urban protestors in Mandalay, Yangon and other areas, for them the struggle is not simply a choice between NLD or the Tatmadaw. But for the people of Rakhine the current anti-Junta protests does not necessarily translate into support for the NLD. Suu Kyi defended the military’s actions at the International Court of justice and the NLD backed the fight against the Arakan Army in Rakhine. In March 2020, the NLD led government designated the AA and its political wing a terrorist organization. Before the November 2020 general elections, the election commission had cancelled voting in many Rakhine townships. The NLD government never addressed the serious conflict of interest issues in its proposed Salween River hydropower projects in the Shan, Karenni and Karen states, all conflict zones. Unless the prospect of federal autonomy that was proposed by the 1947 Panglong Agreement is revisited, the present situation doesn’t offer much choice for the minorities. Since the latest coup, the Junta has intensified suppression of minority ethnic groups. For instance, fighting between the military and Karen of the Irrawaddy Delta has intensified.

What’s different from the past is the element of empathy for the struggles of marginalized and long-subjugated ethnic groups. Myanmar has witnessed some of the longest civil wars in history, in which embattled minority ethnic groups have been subjected to massacres and all forms of atrocities. Now similar brutality and repression has been unleashed by the military in the urban centres. In the current atmosphere, the struggle of the people in the heartland and the fringes have found common ground in a rejection of the Junta.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Vaishali Basu Sharma

Vaishali Basu Sharma is a Researcher on Strategic and Economic Affairs. She has worked as a Consultant with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. Vaishali is now associated with Policy Perspectives Foundation. She can be reached at postvaishali@gmail.com

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