The country has woken up to widespread communications cuts, banks closed, and soldiers in army uniform patrol the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Residents switching on their TVs only had access to the military-owned TV channel Myawaddy, with apparently all other news channels blocked.
As news spread that the country’s democratically elected leaders had been arrested in the capital – hours before the opening of the first session of the new parliament – the news anchor on the military-owned channel announced that power had been handed over to Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
In the letter, the military confirmed that it had detained the country’s de facto civilian leader Suu Kyi, along with other high-ranking leaders of the National League for Democracy, in response to alleged voting irregularities in the November elections.
The coup came after weeks of heightened political tensions in the country over the disputed elections, and rumors spread about the possibility of the military taking over for several days.
Monday’s events drew widespread international condemnation, as the United States called on Myanmar’s military leaders to “release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people.”
According to a statement by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, “The United States expresses its deep concern and alarm about reports that the Burmese military has detained several civilian government leaders, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and civil society leaders.” The army must retract these actions immediately. “
Army Commander Min Aung Hling, who now runs the country, has been under US sanctions since December 2019. He has been listed for committing serious human rights violations related to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslim community.
“I have an overwhelmed feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. Myanmar is a reminder of a country awash in arms, with deep divisions across ethnic and religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”
What led to the coup
In its declaration, signed by the acting president and former military general, Mint Soe, the military alleges that voter fraud occurred in the November 8, 2020 elections, and said they detained political leaders “for failing to take action, and not following them. Request to adjourn the House and Senate sessions.” .
Myanmar’s Election Commission on Thursday rejected allegations of voter fraud, saying that any errors – such as duplicate names on voter lists – were not sufficient to affect the outcome of the vote.
After her release, Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide victory in Myanmar’s 2015 elections, forming the first civilian government after decades of isolation and military tyranny.
But its international reputation has been damaged in recent years by allegations of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Myanmar denies the accusations and has long claimed that it was targeting terrorists.
“This needs to be matched with the strongest international response,” the group said. “The military needs to understand that they have seriously miscalculated when they thought they could get away with this.”
When military commanders seized power, major internet and telephone disruptions occurred across the country, which could affect people’s ability to obtain information or organize any response via social media.
Netblocks, which monitors internet outages worldwide, said real-time network data showed a significant drop in connection in the early hours of Monday morning. Doug Madhuri, an analyst at Kentik, a network watchdog company, added on Twitter that there was a “major internet outage” unfolding.
According to Netblocks, “Ongoing disconnects were monitored with national connectivity initially dropping to 75% and then 50% of normal levels by 8:00 AM local time.”
Reuters reported that Myanmar’s state media are suffering from technical problems and are unable to broadcast. “Given the current communication difficulties, we would respectfully inform you that the regular programs of MRTV and Radio Myanmar cannot be broadcast,” Myanmar Radio and Television said in a post on its Facebook page.
Later in the day, MRTV began broadcasting military propaganda with footage of soldiers waving flags over sandbags, and helicopters flying over military personnel and paramedics carrying a stretcher.
Netblocks reported that “technical data shows cuts have affected several network operators, including state-owned Myanma Post and Telecommunications (MPT) and international operator Telenor, with preliminary findings indicating a centralized disruption mechanism targeting cellular and some fixed-line services,” And it progresses over time. “
Banks in Myanmar have also been temporarily closed due to widespread internet disruptions, according to a statement from the Bank of Myanmar Association. The Chairman and Central Working Committee of the Myanmar Banks Association held an emergency meeting Monday morning and decided that banks should cease operations until internet connectivity improves.
An international response
The military operation raised the concern and condemnation of the international community.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan briefed US President Joe Biden on the situation in Myanmar, according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Jane Psaki.
The statement said, “The United States opposes any attempt to change the results of the recent elections or impede the democratic transition in Myanmar, and will take measures against officials if these steps are not reversed.” We are closely monitoring the situation. “
Australia on Monday called for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other senior commanders who are being held by the military.
In a statement issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Foreign Minister Maryse Payne said: “The Australian government is deeply concerned about reports that the Myanmar military is once again seeking to control Myanmar.”
“We call on the army to respect the rule of law, resolve disputes through legal mechanisms, and immediately release all civilian leaders and others who have been unlawfully arrested,” the statement said.
The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed its concern about the situation in Myanmar, saying in a statement that it “affirms that all electoral disputes be addressed according to the available legal mechanism” and urged “all parties in Myanmar to exercise restraint and provide dialogue in finding solutions to the challenges so that the situation does not worsen.” .
The sudden coup surprised many observers who indicated that the army already possessed great strength.
In 2008, the ruling military council drafted a constitution that allocated 25% of the legislative seats to the military as well as control over key ministries such as defense and home affairs, and veto power over constitutional issues.
The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, told CNN that the coup was “a real mystery”.
“They wrote the constitution they just overthrew. It gives them tremendous power, economic power and political power,” he said. “So how and why they turn their constitution around is unbelievable.”
Andrews said their work is “extremely harmful” and comes at a time when many in the country are in grave hardship due to the Corona pandemic.
“The people of Myanmar have gone through a lot. They have lived through decades of brutal military rule. They are going through a pandemic. The economy is in a difficult situation for many. It is very unfair for them to go through this now.”
Additional reporting included James Griffiths of CNN, Sandy Seydoux and Sophie Jeong.