YANGON: Myanmar’s military seized power in a bloodless coup yesterday, detaining democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and imposing a one-year state of emergency. The intervention ended a decade of transition from outright military rule in Myanmar, with the generals justifying the power grab by alleging fraud in the November elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide.
The coup sparked global condemnation, with the United States leading calls for democracy to be immediately restored. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained in the capital Naypyidaw before dawn, party spokesman Myo Nyunt told AFP, just hours before parliament was meant to reconvene for the first time since the elections.
Late yesterday, Myanmar state television announced the removal of 24 of Suu Kyi’s ministers, and 11 new appointments. Former foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, who served under ex-general Thein Sein, will return to that role after five years – taking over a job that Suu Kyi had held while she was de facto national leader.
Earlier the military sealed off roads around the capital with armed troops, trucks and armored personnel carriers. Military helicopters flew across the city. A putsch had been expected for days, yet when it came it left Myanmar stunned – with roads to its main international airport blocked and communications cut – a country once more isolated from a world it only rejoined a decade ago. “It’s extremely upsetting – I don’t want the coup,” said a 64-year-old Burmese man in Hlaing township, standing with a crowd outside a grocery stall.
The military declared, via its own television channel, a one-year state of emergency and announced that former general Myint Swe would be acting president for the next year. It alleged “huge irregularities” in the November polls that the election commission had failed to address. “As the situation must be resolved according to the law, a state of emergency is declared,” the announcement said.
The army later pledged to hold fresh elections after the year-long state of emergency. Suu Kyi had issued a pre-emptive statement ahead of her detention calling on people “not to accept a coup”, according to a post on the official Facebook page of her party’s chairperson. The military moved quickly to stifle dissent, severely restricting the internet and mobile phone communications across the country.
In Yangon, the former capital that remains Myanmar’s commercial hub, troops seized the city hall just ahead of the announcement, according to an AFP journalist. AFP saw several trucks in Yangon carrying army supporters, with Myanmar flags and blaring nationalist songs, and some NLD members reported that security forces had ordered them to stay at home.
People rushed to their neighborhood grocery stores to stock up on rice, oil and instant noodles. Banks were temporarily closed by the communications freeze, but some were expected to reopen today. Elsewhere, the chief minister of Karen state and several other regional ministers were also held, party sources told AFP.
Washington was swift to react to the news. “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union, Britain and Australia were among others to condemn the coup. China declined to criticize anyone, instead calling for all sides to “resolve differences”. Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011. The NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote – increasing its support from 2015.
But the military has for weeks complained the polls were riddled with irregularities, and claimed to have uncovered more than 10 million instances of voter fraud. Myanmar has seen two previous coups since independence from Britain in 1948 – in 1962 and 1988.
Suu Kyi, 75, is an immensely popular figure in Myanmar for her opposition to the military – which earned her the Nobel peace prize – having spent the best part of two decades under house arrest during the previous dictatorship. But her international image was shredded during her time in power as she defended the military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the country’s Muslim Rohingya community.
About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into neighboring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide. Suu Kyi was only ever de facto leader of Myanmar as the military had inserted a clause in the constitution that barred her from being president.
The 2008 constitution also ensured the military would remain a significant force in government by retaining control of the interior, border and defense ministries. But to circumvent the clause preventing her from being president, Suu Kyi assumed leadership of the country via a new role of “state counselor”. “From (the military’s) perspective, it has lost significant control over the political process,” political analyst Soe Myint Aung said. – AFP