The Politics and Geopolitics of the Coup in Myanmar

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The Politics and Geopolitics of the Coup in Myanmar

Vijay Prashad

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military – known as the Tatmadaw – invoked Article 417 of the 2008 constitution, dismissed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and arrested her and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Condemnation of the coup was swift, although there would be reason for hesitancy in the reaction: Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been the face of the democracy movement until her release from house arrest in 2010, ruined her reputation when she came to the International Court of Justice in 2019 to defend her country’s genocide against the... Rohingya people. No longer is Aung San Suu Kyi the unalloyed symbol of democracy and human rights.

Within Myanmar, protests against the coup continue. Tens of thousands of people, many wearing red (the color of the NLD), have taken to the streets across Myanmar, not only in the more congested cities but also in the countryside, to protest the coup.

The momentum against the coup picked up when associations of civil servants refused to work for the military. While this wave began with medics, it escalated to involve workers in the railways and education, and workers in the social welfare and construction ministries. Staff in the Department of Social Welfare released a statement that read, “We will get back to work only after power is handed back to the democratically elected government.”

By the second week of February, protests entered Myanmar’s typically quiet capital city of Naypyitaw, with motorcycle parades and demonstrations at the main marketplaces. Myanmar’s military built this city as the capital and shifted all administrative offices from Yangon to this interior town in 2005. Naypyitaw was built with the intention that it would remain a military stronghold, safe for the rulers of the country who would not be disturbed by the messiness of democracy. However, in the elections of 2015 and 2020, the military’s election vehicle, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), did not prevail even in Naypyitaw, where the NLD won handily. It demonstrates the appetite among Myanmar’s public for a democratic process.

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