What is Happening in Burma?

4 February 2021


In the early hours of Monday 1st February, Burma’s powerful military took control of the country in a coup and declared a year-long state of emergency.

The democratically elected Counsellor of State Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and senior government officials from the recently re-elected NLD Party have been detained, removed from post, and replaced. In total the military has announced that 24 ministers and deputies have been removed, and named 11 replacements, including positions in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs.

Amid widespread internet and communications blackouts (including the state broadcaster, national and international TV channels), the news that the country’s democratically elected leaders had been removed from power and detained was announced on a military-owned news channel on Monday morning. It was here that the people of Burma learned that power had been handed over to army chief Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s Commander-in-Chief.

Soldiers blocked roads in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and the largest city, Yangon. Since then, soldiers in army fatigues have been patrolling the streets of Burma’s major cities. No extensive violence has been reported.

When HART last spoke to contacts inside Burma, they asked the international community to engage directly with leaders of ethnic groups and for aid to be sent across borders to them and to NGOs working with them as aid sent to the Burmese Government will not reach those in greatest need.


Why is this happening now?

The Burmese military has confirmed that it detained the country’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other high ranking National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders, in response to alleged voting irregularities in November’s election.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, claimed an overwhelming victory in that election, taking 83% of the vote, which granted it another five years in government. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just 33 out of a possible 476 seats. This was a major loss for the military backed party who had expected to win far more seats.

The coup came just hours before the first session of the new parliament was set to open. It follows weeks of worsening political tensions over the disputed election amid rumours that the military could take over. During the opening session of parliament, the newly elected government would have been enshrined into law. It remains unclear as to whether this will still go ahead.

The November election was only the second democratic vote since the country emerged from 50 years of isolationist military rule in 2011. Last week, a military spokesperson said it would not rule out a coup if the unfounded allegations of voter fraud were not properly investigated. On Monday it moved to act on that claim, reasserting its authority with the arrest of numerous political leaders for, “failing to take action.”

Burma’s election commission had previously rejected the allegations made by the military, saying any errors such as duplicated names on voter lists were not enough to impact the result of the vote.

Additionally, newly announced State Leader of Burma, Min Aung Hlaing, was due to step down from his role as Commander-in-Chief (a role equivalent to vice president) this year. In 2019, the United States imposed sanctions on Min Aung Hlaing and three other military leaders for their involvement in the human rights abuses related to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslim community. He is also involved in several court cases in various international courts including the International Court of Justice which are still ongoing.

Alongside the political upheaval in Burma, ethnic minority groups continue to be persecuted and subjected to violence by the Burma Army. In Karen state, over 5,000 people have been displaced in the past two months due to Burma Army attacks despite a supposed ceasefire. Moreover, attacks continue in Kachin State where over 100,000 remain displaced and in northern Shan state where Shan and Taang people are under regular attack. In Arakan state, western Burma, there is a lull in the fighting but over 70,000 people are displaced there.

To learn more about Burma and HART’s work in the country, click here.

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