Democracy vs. Dictatorship: Myanmar’s Fight for Freedom


Anti-coup Protests in Myanmar

After four months of increasing violence and terror, Myanmar is witnessing gory bloodshed as the fight to retain its democratic rights continues. The death toll rising to nearly 800 in the last few weeks showcases the increasing resistance from the civilians towards the dictating Myanmar Military. The recent killing of civilians, including social media influencers speaking up against the Military, has been globally condemned and international efforts and requests to reverse the Military takeover have been in place since the beginning of the coup in early February.

Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin held up a "Pray for Myanmar" sign as she walked the stage, addressing her country's current political crisis and subsequently won the national costume competition at the Miss Universe Pageant 2021.


Arbitrary arrests of protest and civil disobedience leaders has further angered the general public, resulting in a rise in violent protests as authorities began using tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, followed by live ammunition, to suppress the uprisings and retaliate against the protesting civilians.



Activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi has risen to become a prominent figure throughout the anti-coup movements across the country. Clearly emphasising the lack of human security, she describes how the Military has forced people to relocate every few weeks while taking away the peoples’ democratic rights and freedom. Despite the risks, human rights activists have continued to use their voice to publicly condemn the actions of the Military, with Thinzar Shunlei Yi being one of the leading faces of what has been termed as the ‘Spring Revolution’. The consequences of a Military dictatorship would include the suppression of women and minorities, who have come together, to the forefront of the protests, resisting the Military rule. Naming this coup a “massacre”, the Burmese people, activists, social media influencers and leading public figures continue to actively participate in protests and attempt to bring this crackdown to the attention of the international community and overthrow the Military dictatorship while calling for the release of the democratically elected leaders of the south-east Asian country.


Aung San Suu Kyi

Having begun on February 1st, with the arrest of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the Military crackdown over Myanmar was a distinct reversal of the recently acquired democratic reforms and a reintroduction of a Military dictatorship. Greatly contested by the majority of the population, initial resistance to the Military takeover consisted of peaceful protest across the nation, including large gatherings and marches in major cities such as Yangon and Bago. Suu Kyi is known for her leadership in bringing democracy to Myanmar and won the November 2020 elections by a vast majority. These elections, however, also became the root cause for the coup that followed in February, as the NLD was publicly accused of election fraud, resulting in an intense Military crackdown and attempt to overthrow her party.


The type of government to govern Myanmar has been a matter of conflict for decades. Having begun as a military dictatorship, following their independence from the British, Myanmar first became a democratic state in 2010. After a great struggle, the NLD was elected to power and has since secured the democratic rights of the people to the best of their ability. The former rule of the armed forces was not well accepted and continues to be condemned by the people as the government is reversed to its former authoritarian nature. The people of Myanmar have come together to safeguard this historic change and continue to fight for a fair and equal society despite concerns for their safety, reluctant to let go of the recently acquired a democratic method of governance. Myanmar’s historic fight for independence and democracy has led to a constant state of conflict over the last few decades. Following the Second World War, the intense military crackdown has been a continuous trend since 1962. Through the oppression of ethnic minorities and extensive use of force, the military involvement in the state increased exponentially, leading to the intense crackdown in early February.



A significant rise in the number of people fleeing the country to neighbouring states can be observed. Burmese nationals living close to the state borders are seen to be seeking refuge in countries such as India and Bangladesh in record breaking numbers, showing initial signs of another mass migration crisis. With shootings in broad daylight, the Military has further instilled fear, as civilians continue to condemn and resist the atrocities of the Military. In interviews conducted by the BBC, many Burmese nationals have compared the actions of the Military to genocide, as they emphasise on the number of people killed since the beginning of the coup. As people fear stepping out of their homes, the Military continues to gain more power while attempting to convert Myanmar back to an authoritarian state, calling for an international outcry and an urgent request for help.


The creation and role of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) has been essential in combating the Military in various parts of Myanmar. As the Military advanced into Mindat, in the north-western state of Chin, the CDF has actively fought to counter the Military takeover, successfully ambushing Military convoys and delaying supply deliveries to derail the Military. In recent days, however, citizens of the small town have been fleeing the region, due to a lack of security and arms, to better counter the Military. With access to homemade weapons, people aspire to return once the state of emergency has elapsed. The CDF has further insisted on re-assessing the situation to minimise the bombardment and bloodshed in Mindat and prioritize the safety and survival of the citizens.


Min Aung Hlaing, the Military Commander-in-Chief

The political will of the people rests against the rule of the radical right-wing regime, as the public continues to demand the release of members of the NLD. Using the protests as a form of creative expression, images of the public resorting to the use of costumes, slogans and hand gestures have become a growing trend, followed by many across social media as well. By declaring the Military rule as illegitimate, the public continues to protest as violence, bloodshed and death become a part of daily life within the state.



With a significant rise in violence and public casualties, the international community has wasted no time in requesting the withdrawal of armed forces while warning the southeast Asian state of becoming “ungovernable” as stated by International Crisis Group senior Richard Horsey. With the UN Security Council concerned about the country being at the brink of state failure, Myanmar has been in the spotlight on a global scale, since the beginning of the coup in early February. Now in charge, the Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has long held a position of political influence in the country and has been internationally condemned for his actions in the recent coup.

Hlaing has formerly been condemned and questioned previously about his role in the violence and terror attacks against ethnic minorities in the country, a longstanding and ongoing issue within the state. Claiming to build a “true and disciplined democracy”, not only has a year long state of emergency been declared, but the Military has further promised a “free and fair” election, having been denied a recount of the recent November elections due to the lack of evidence for their claims of election fraud.



State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has since been detained at her residence along with other key members of her cabinet and has faced a series of charges, including the possession of illegal communication devices and publishing information regarding the Coronavirus, to instil fear among the people and instigate civil unrest. Having appeared in court a month after the Military crackdown, Aung San Suu Kyi faced charges for having violated official Secrets Law, the Natural Disaster Law and was also arrested for being accused of corruption as the Military claimed the Nobel Laureate accepted $600,000 and 11kgs of gold. With political unrest at its peak, the future of the country and its stability have repeatedly and rightfully been questioned. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group, have confirmed the increasing death toll, with nearly 800 people having been reportedly killed, as civil disobedience continues to increase on a daily basis.


Written by Veda Rodewald

Edited by Thenthamizh SS



 

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