Myanmar: The Gen Z Revolution
On February 1st, 2021 Myanmar’s military known as the Tatmadaw ended a decade of democracy by overthrowing the newly elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Tatmadaw seized full control of the government after arresting Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's civilian leader, and top members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The military then announced the formation of a military junta on its television station and that it would remain in power for one year, with ultimate authority resting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. To understand what led to the Tatmadaw's coup of Myanmar and why pro-democracy protestors are fed up with the military we need to look at the events of 1988 onward.
Myanmar vacillated between military and civilian leadership since 1948, though the Tatmadaw the most powerful institution the entire time. In 1988 the student-led in 8888 uprising in Myanmar shook the foundations of Myanmar and threatened to overthrow the vicious dictatorship Ne Win.
For six months in 1988, protests swelled across the isolated nation, as hundreds of thousands of citizens participated in a nationwide mutiny, led by disaffected students, against the ruthless dictator Ne Win.
The demonstrations were met with staggering violence; thousands were killed, and many more were imprisoned and tortured by the military.
A bloody coup d'etat in September 1988 installed a military junta that would rule the country for the next 22 years dashing any hopes for democracy the student uprising may have had.
The 8888 uprising gave rise to the National League for Democracy (NLD), and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero and founder of the military Bogyoke Aung San.
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989 for almost two decades. The Nobel committee awarded her the Peace Prize in 1991 for her fight for democracy and emphasis on nonviolence. In response, the international community placed sanctions on the country for decades, hoping those punishments would compel the generals to enact pro-democracy reforms and stop abusing human rights.
Myanmar's military leadership began trading heavily with China, Russia, and most of the countries that sanctioned it, via proxies that secured trade through companies linked to offshore accounts. The Tatmadaw also became intertwined with the illicit industries of the golden triangle, most infamously the illicit trade of Jade which brought them billions of dollars.
The Tatmadaw is also widely reported to be engaged in human trafficking, child trafficking, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities. Giving them control Myanmar's legal industries.
In hopes of ending that economic and political isolation, Myanmar’s Tatmadaw spent five years drafting a constitution before it was accepted in 2008. The new constitution gave the military at least 25 percent of the seats in the legislature. No amendments to the new constitution could be passed without over 75 percent of lawmakers voting for them. The Tatmadaw can veto anything that threatens their power or wealth.
They also released Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010 under the condition that she could never be president.
In 2015, the Suu Kyi-led NLD won 77 percent of the seats in Parliament in Myanmar’s first recognized, free and fair election in 25 years. In 2016 Suu Kyi was given the title of “state counsellor” a role created specifically for her allowing her to govern by proxy via an allied president. While in power Suu Kyi did little to advance democracy and ran a policy of appeasement with the military. Including the backing of the Rohingya Genocide. Suu Kyi backed the Tatmadaw’s 2017 Rohingya genocide campaign and the mass killing and gang rape that followed. She went on to even defend the generals involved in the genocide at the International Court of Justice.
In March 2020 Suu Kyi began a push to amend Myanmar’s Constitution and strip the military of many of its authorities. The proposal included reducing the number of allocated seats for military officers in Parliament and it received majority support but was blocked by the Tatmadaw’s veto power. In November 2020, Myanmar voted to give the NLD 396 of 476 seats in parliament, trouncing the military-backed party.
In response to the NLD’s landslide victory in November, the military and its political arm immediately claimed the elections were fraudulent. The Tatmadaw allegations were disproven by foreign observers and the nation’s electoral commission. The Tatmadaw then demanded a military-supervised election and filed 200 complaints to local election agencies, and took their case to the Supreme Court. Feeling that the Supreme Court would rule against them triggered the Tatmadaw plot to overthrow the democratic government to maintain power.
On February 1st, 2021, the junta overthrew the government claiming the elections were fraudulent. They then began murdering dissenters that opposed them including children. Today Myanmar is in turmoil thanks to the Tatmadaw's hunger for control and power. Thousands of protestors and dissidents continue to oppose them. Armed ethnic militias have also joined the fray and gained support from the general public to overthrow the junta and restore democracy. The Tatmadaw has lost most public support and can only try to hold to power through force.