In the early hours of the morning of 1st February when the newly elected members of the Parliament had assembled in Naypyitaw, the Army moved in by arresting Suu Kyi, th President Dr. U Win Myint, many leaders of the NLD, Members of the Union Election Commission and Chief Ministers of other States and the regions. The Army take over was justified by the need to resolve huge instances of alleged fraud in the November 8 Elections.
A day before the Coup, on 30th Jan the Army issued a statement that the statements of the Military Chief of abandoning the Constitution as one of misinterpretation and that it would go by the 2008 Constitution and the laws of the land. This now looks now that it was done more to mislead the public when the Army had already planned to seize power. Some analysts (not the author) had been fooled by this statement and had begun to comment that the Army had finally taken a step back!
A decade after handing over power, the Army has once again taken control of the Country by devious means as we will explain later. The Army appears to get the feeling of obligation and entitlement when it comes to rule the country!
Suu Kyi and other leaders did expect the Coup and had prepared themselves for the move. Suu Kyi who is now in detention in an Army facility left a note to the public to “resist the military coup.” The message of the NLD had also appeared in the Face Book calling on the people to resist the Coup.
After the arrest of the President and the Counselor, the Army continued with the drama of following the 2008 Constitution. The arrest of the two functionaries had no legal basis either in the Constitution or in the laws of the land which the military made a strong statement only a day before that the “Army would protect and abide by the Constitution.”
The sidekick- the Army’s proxy- the USDP staged a demonstration at Naypyitaw calling for cancellation of the elections on the 31st Jan, a day before the new Parliament was to begin. The ‘disciplined’ demonstrators called for the removal of the Election Commission and called it a “National Threat.”
Having removed the President by unlawful means, the Army invoked Article 73 of the Constitution wherein the First Vice President U Myint Swe who is an Army nominee to take over as the ‘Interim President’. He in turn called for a meeting of the National Defence and Security Council that had never met before during the five-year rule of the NLD. The NDSC in turn under Article 417 of the Constitution declared one year of emergency under which the country’s legislature, administrative and Judicial powers were handed over under Article 418 of the Constitution to the Army Chief!
Thus, the Army tried to give a legal and Constitutional cover that did not exist and chose to follow the Constitution when it suited them and chose not to when it did not suit them as in the arrest of the President and the State Counselor. This was at a time when the then Supreme Court had not yet come to any decision on the sustainability of the petitions signed on Army’s behalf by the USDP on the supposed election fraud and was being heard.
The Army declared in a statement that it intends to reconstitute the Election Commission, Voters’ list investigated and then a free and fair multi party elections will be held. After this the responsibility of the State will be handed over to the winning party, “meeting the norms and standards of the democracy” (Devil quoting the Scriptures!)
The US among the Western Countries issued the strongest statement and said “The US is opposed to any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed’. As we had seen in the past, only the people will suffer by the sanctions and not the perpetrators of the Coup.
Among the ASEAN, Singapore expressed its concern and so did the UN Secretary General. India also expressed its “deep concern” over detentions and the reports of a military coup” and said that it had always been steadfast in its support of democratic transition in Myanmar.
The reaction of China was very strange. Its Foreign Office Spokesman merely noted the developments and refused to discuss the issue further.
I had always maintained that the Army Chief did discuss the supposed election fraud with the Chinese Premier on 12th of Jan and it is almost certain that he had given a hint on the nature of action the Army would be taking. In my view the Army would not have made this drastic move without a hint of support from China. China in its own predatory interest under the Belt and Road Initiative would need a more pliable and beholden administration to see their projects through. This suits both the parties.
The road map laid out by the Army has many hurdles including the participation of the NLD in the elections. It is most likely that the new elections will be rigged to get as many seats as possible for the Army Proxy so that USDP with the help of one fourth of the Army members of the Parliament may make the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing as the President. The Chief has ambitions too and may try for the post through the seemingly legal but totally illegal means!
Suu Kyi in her tenure took every step possible not to annoy the Army and in the process was discredited internationally. Still she held on and even went to the ICJ to speak in support of the Army. Her plans to get round the Army- the so-called detente did not work. This is a bitter lesson she had to learn at the fag end of her life!
The Indian position is rather delicate. It cannot brazenly support an entity that has little democratic norms and standards and had snuffed out-of whatever that was in the name of democracy.
Yet India and other countries like Japan should do nothing that would give fully both the political and economic space to China as it happened during the Army regime ten years before.