Myanmar’s democracy is dying a slow death in the wake of the executions of four pro-democracy activists and political prisoners by the military JUNTA. Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s democratic failure is proved by these incidents which were a beacon of hope for the Burmese public. The JUNTA has further announced the extension of the ‘emergency rule’ till 2023.
1948 Post Colonial Scenario
The military has always been in power in Myanmar since its independence from Britain in 1948. Myanmar had parliamentary democracy but there was influenced heavily by the military. There were widespread infringement of dissent, peaceful protest, fundamental rights. There was a military coup led by General Ne Win in 1962. He imposed a harsh authoritarian rule in Myanmar by suspending the constitution. Suu Kyi led democratic protests, putting her under house arrest from 1989 to 2010. Finally, in 2015 her party National League of Democracy won a landslide victory in the elections.
Suu Kyi’s Leadership
Suu Kyi’s victory was seen as a hope that Myanmar was out of the clutches of the military. But in reality, the military retained all the control. It had the authority to choose the president. Suu Kyi was barred to hold any executive power under the constitution. She was a de-facto leader under the title of “state councilor”.
There was a mass exodus of the Rohingya minorities following the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017. More than 742,000 sought refuge in Bangladesh among which majority were women and children. Suu Kyi witnessed the violence by the military against these ethnic minorities turning a blind eye. She also defended the military in the ICJ in 2019. This incident made her lose her international credibility as a democratic icon.
Military in Control
On several occasions it was quite clear what Suu Kyi and her party actually stood for. The ways of NDL maintained consistency with the military-led party USDP. The ethnic minorities were recognized as solutions but were ignored during talks. The NDL were equally involved in land-grabbing and wealth show-off , favoring neo-liberal agendas. She failed to engage the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), which is a constitutional body with military and civil members. There were allegations of unjust prosecution of journalists and activists by the NDL. Overall, the military continued to hold considerable seats in the parliament and influenced ministries of defense, home affairs and border affairs.
2021 Coup and Suu Kyi’s Downfall
On February , 2020 the JUNTA led a coup and arrested Suu Kyi deposing her. There were widespread protests against it. The military-led brutal crackdown on the protestors, reporters and activists. In December 2020 Suu Kyi was found guilty of 11 charges like inciting dissent and breaking Covid rules. She denied all of them.
Since 2021 almost 800 people have already died in the atrocities by the military. About 115 political prisoners were captured and sentenced to death. On 25th of July, 2022 JUNTA executed four pro-democracy activists for offences under anti-terrorism laws. Among them was Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from NLD who was arrested in November, and sentenced to death in January. Another one was democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu known as Jimmy, received the same sentence from the military tribunal.
During the brief period of five years when Suu Kyi won the elections, there was hope for change. But her role as an ‘icon of resistance’ was shattered when she supported military’s actions. She gambled with her newly found political status which cost the people of Myanmar their democratic rights.
Suu Kyi’s democratic failure strangely did not falter her popularity and she is still held as an icon her arrest has been condemned publicly leading to severe outrage by the public.