Myanmar: An omen for Democracy

Devyn Shea (TheLorian)

Recently Myanmar, often called Burma, has been in the news all across the world. This is because a coup d’état took place in the country. For those who don’t know, a coup d’état, commonly referred to as a coup, is when the government is overthrown. In this case the government was overthrown by the military. But why would the military ever overthrow the government?

Myanmar, then known as Burma, was controlled by the United Kingdom. During WW2, they were invaded and controlled by the Japanese. After the defeat of the Japanese, the Burmese were on the quest to gain their independence from the United Kingdom. A man named Aung San quickly became the leader of Burma and negotiated for independence with the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee. Burma would hold an election and Aung San would be the future prime minister when the country would receive its independence, but before that happened Aung San was shot dead. With the founding father of the nation dead, a friend of San named U Nu quickly became the leader. The nation would gain its independence shortly after San’s death and would become a democracy with a parliamentary system.

In the late 1950s, the ruling political party, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, was having internal political divisions. In 1962, General Ne Win overthrew the government and imprisoned the country’s politicians in a coup. Ne Win and the military instated a socialist dictatorship, with Ne Win himself as dictator. The dictatorship under a one-party system, lasted from 1962 to 1988, until Ne Win resigned due to protests. The government was replaced with a State Law and Order Restoration Council.

The new military dictatorship renamed the country from Burma to Myanmar and held multiparty national elections in 1990. The opposition party beat the government’s socialist party in a landslide, but the leaders of the opposition party were either exiled or put under house arrest. In the case of the country’s founding father, Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi was put on house arrest in 1989 and would not be partially released until 1995.

Throughout the 1990s the military consolidated its power in the nation. In the early 2000s Aung San Suu Kyi negotiated for the release of her and other political figures from arrest and the country slowly inched towards a more democratic one. Aung San Suu Kyi would be arrested more throughout the next decade and would be constitutionally barred from running for certain offices.

In 2010, the country held its first democratic elections since 1990. Numerous military generals from the military controlled government resigned and ran as civilians for political offices. The elections would mainly be between two major parties, one that was of the present military controlled government and the other of the military controlled dictatorship from 1962 to 1988. The present military government won the elections and the new President Thein Sein became more lenient to his political opposition. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy was allowed to be a political party and Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to run for parliament and would later be elected Prime Minister of Myanmar in the nation’s first officially free election. She could not be president, however, because of a law that barred people with foreign spouses or foreign children from holding the office.

Last year, the country held national elections again and the National League for Democracy won in a landslide. This angered the military leaders in the country, whose preferred party had lost for the second time in a row. The military said the elections were rigged and overthrew the government. So, to answer the original question, why? The main reason why they overthrew the government is, plainly, power. They want to do things their way and can’t thru legal means. Leaders around the globe have denounced the coup in Myanmar, but will it make any difference? The future of the country seems unstable. They are in a cycle of military governments that they can’t seem to get out of. The military’s rejection of election results, however, brings striking parallels between Myanmar and the United States. Which begs another final question, is democracy as unbreakable as we think?

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