Myanmar Coup: No End in Sight as Protests Take a Violent Turn

Undeterred by the bloody turn of events at the weekend, when police and soldiers opened fire on the protestors, tens of thousands of opponents to Myanmar’s military coup stormed the streets in towns all over the country. The deaths of two protestors seemed to spur on the protestors even more, as they gathered by the thousands at sites to chant slogans or to engage in peaceful demonstrations.

The first two weeks of protests have largely been peaceful, until Myanmar police chose to open fire on 20 February, leaving at least two dead and thirty injured. In the past week, the military has started to deploy tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to chase away protesters.

Led by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, the military, which is also called the Tatmadaw, has declared a year-long state of emergency, triggering the protests. The military detained Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures in her democratic ruling party in an early-morning raid on 1 February 2021. The action overturned the results of the latest general election held in November 2020.

How it started

Myanmar (also known as Burma) is located in Southeast Asia, neighbouring Laos, China, India, Bangladesh, and Thailand. After gaining independence from Britain in 1948, the country was ruled by the military until 2011, when a new government supporting civilian rule came into power.

Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence following the 1988 uprisings. Her father, Aung San, is regarded as modern Myanmar’s Father of the Nation. As the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys overwhelming popularity as she led a decades-long campaign to restore democracy in Myanmar, having spent years in detention and house arrest.

Having been denied victory in the 1990 elections through a similar military coup, she led the NLD to a landslide victory in 2015, after which she assumed the title of state counsellor and de-facto leader.

READ: Myanmar Coup: View of the Common Folk

How it’s going

The Tatmadaw recently announced that 24 ministers and deputies had since been stripped of their power and removed from office, naming 11 replacements for their posts.

The military states that they are on the side of the people and has tried to quell the protests by stating that they would hold a fair election after the year-long state of emergency. General Min Aung Hlaing cited claims of voter fraud in last November’s elections as well as the failure of the ruling party to postpone the election because of the coronavirus crisis. Despite this, the military has failed to provide proof of election fraud, with Myanmar’s electoral body the Union Election Commission rejecting the allegations.

Facebook, who recently took down US President Donald Trump’s account following insurrection at the US Congress building, has also deleted the military’s main page under its standards of prohibiting the incitement of violence. Min Aung Hlaing’s personal Twitter account has already been suspended in 2019 due to complaints of hate speech, while his Facebook account was deleted in 2018.

Curfews were put in place to restrict civilian movement, and international and domestic TV channels went off-air. Roads were blocked in the capital Naypyidaw and the main city, Yangon. Phone lines were down, internet connectivity was affected and phone services were disrupted, especially in the main city of Yangon.

But in the age of the internet, people found ways to send messages to loved ones abroad, urging them to alert the world of the situation in Myanmar. Local celebrities and other influencers used their public profiles to draw attention to the protests, which resulted in some of them getting arrested.

Singapore caught in the crossfire

Singapore is Myanmar’s largest foreign investor, with a growing number of Singapore-based businesses opening shops there, building real estate projects, and even partnering with the military. Protestors have called out Singapore for not taking a stand. Food and beverage brands such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Beauty In The Pot, Crystal Jade, BreadTalk, Tiger Beer, and Ramen Ippudo are some of those mentioned online for boycott. Posts shared on Twitter and Facebook saw the logos of these brands crossed out with the words “Boycott Singapore Products”.

READ: Myanmar Coup: ASEAN Response Shows Ray of Hope

The formal response from Singapore

Minster of Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, expressed grave concern over the events in Myanmar, saying he hoped “all parties involved will maintain dialogue and work towards a peaceful resolution and national reconciliation in Myanmar, including a return to its path of democratic transition.”

Dr Balakrishnan urged all parties involved to exercise utmost restraint and take urgent steps to de-escalate the situation, stressing “no violence against unarmed civilians… under any circumstances.”

Following reports of civilian casualties in Mandalay after the military opened fire on them, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the use of lethal weapons in Myanmar against unarmed civilians is “inexcusable”.

As a member of ASEAN, Singapore adheres to the principles of consensus and non-interference in politics, meaning Singapore holds the stance that Myanmar’s future must be determined by its own people.

Political scientist Ian Chong notes that Singapore has “cultivated ties with Myanmar’s military generals and police since at least 2015”. And by not speaking out, Singapore’s silence is seen as a sign of support for the dictatorship by Myanmar protestors.

In contrast, US President Joe Biden has announced sanctions on Myanmar’s military, with US lawmakers condemning the coup. The US sanctions will target the armed forces and their business interests to limit the impact on civilians.

But as Minister Balakrishnan previously pointed out, putting on too much force could drive Myanmar further into China’s arms. Recent ties between China and the US have been fraught given the trade wars during Donald Trump’s presidency.

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