Democrats everywhere ought to be grateful to the ordinary men and women of Myanmar. They have braved threats of death at the hands of the military junta which staged a coup earlier this month, putting behind bars the democratically-elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Ever since the February 1 coup, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life have thronged the streets of cities and small towns to protest and demand the release from house arrest of the popular leader of the National League for Democracy.
With young people at the vanguard of the movement for the restoration of democracy, even a large section of the public servants came out against the military junta. Thousands of Buddhist monks joined the pro-democracy movement, lending a sharper edge to the fight against military rule. A few days ago, the armed forces killed two protesters in a bid to prevent a peaceful demonstration.
The funeral procession of a young woman shot dead by the military took place on Monday, February 22. Nicknamed the 22222 revolution, it was attended by tens of thousands of people, chanting pro-democracy and anti-coup slogans. The country-wide demonstrations defied warnings of ‘loss of life’ broadcast over the state-controlled media. Clearly, the generals did not reckon that their power-grab would cause such a popular uprising.
Having been convincingly defeated in the national poll, which Suu Kyi’s party swept with a three-fourths majority, the spurned generals declared the election null and void. They alleged widespread malpractices in the poll, a claim rejected by the independent election authorities. Military commander Min Aung Hlaing, while assuming complete control over the country, promised to hold a fresh election within a year. World leaders asked the generals to restore popular rule. However, General Hlaing remains unmoved. US President Joe Biden has now threatened to reimpose sanctions.
China, however, used its veto power to block a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup. So long as the military is assured of the Chinese support, it hopes to ride through the global isolation. China, on its part, exploits Myanmar for its mineral riches, monopolising control of key infrastructure projects. It also lends tacit support to a terrorist group harassing the Myanmar government, which provides Beijing leverage over the latter.
On its part, India has had to tread carefully, given how the armed rebels in the north-east took shelter in Mynamar whenever the Indian police made the going tough for them at home. Besides, India would not like to give a free pass to China in a strategic geography. Yet, it does seem that the generals this time might have miscalculated the popular reaction. The way the entire country has arisen as one in defence of their democratic leader leaves them with little option other than to suppress the popular uprising with the use of sheer force. This can have unforeseen repercussions for Myanmar.
The best course available for the generals is to restore the civilian rule and withdraw themselves to the barracks. No military ruler can last for long if the people are united against him.