Picture Source: Daily Sabah website
ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is an economic union which consists of 10 member states in Southeast Asia. The organisation has been holding annual summit level meetings with member state leaders since February 1976. However, due to the prevailing situation in Myanmar, it was decided by the organisation to exclude the current leader of Myanmar’s Military junta, Min Aung Hlaing, from this year’s summit, which is to be held from the 26th to the 28th of October in Brunei.
ASEAN did however allow a non-politically aligned representative from Myanmar to join the summit. In response to the decision made to exclude Min Aung Hlaing, the military controlled Foreign Ministry of Myanmar commented that they were “extremely disappointed and strongly objected” being excluded from the summit. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement “The discussions and decision on Myanmar’s representation issue was done without consensus and was against the objectives of ASEAN”. A spokesman from the military junta even went as far as blaming the decision on “foreign intervention”.
Many countries such as Singapore and the US support the decision to exclude Myanmar from the upcoming summit. Singapore’s Foreign Minister commented “it was a difficult but necessary” decision to uphold the credibility of the organisation. A US State Department official commented that it was “perfectly appropriate and in fact completely justified” that ASEAN restricted Myanmar’s participation in the event.
Myanmar’s Dark Past with Military Coups
On the 1st of February this year, the military started its operation to arrest the democratically elected leaders of the country. They declared a state of emergency for one year and power over the country was officially handed over to the military leader of Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing.
-Min Aung Hlaing Picture Source: BBC website
The military officials argued that the reason for the military takeover of power in the country was due to “fraudulent elections” which were held last November. However due to the lack of evidence presented by the military and the outlandish charges brought about the ousted leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who had won the November elections by a landslide, it soon became blatantly clear that this was just a coverup for a military coup. Tom Andrews a special rapporteur from the United Nations comments “This outrageous assault on the people of Myanmar by the military cannot be allowed to stand”.
The military started imposing lockdowns and curfews, cut off access to the internet and even opened fire on civilians to try and squash any attempts at protesting by its citizens. But this is not the first time that Myanmar’s democracy has been threatened by the military.
Picture Source: BBC website
Myanmar gained its independence in 1948, however due to the many ethnic communities which occupied the region, there was restless fighting amongst them as to who will retain power. However, in 1962 the military seized power and formed a military junta and established a one-party state. It was only in 1988 that their power was truly challenged, and Aung San Suu Kyi was a leading voice in the protest for free and fair elections. Aung San Suu Kyi had a strong lineage as she was the daughter of Aung San, who was well known and key player in the push for independence from the British back in 1948, and so she had plenty of support.
However, the protests were quickly dispelled by the military and Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for 15 years. In that time, she was able to form the National League for Democracy (NLD) and continued to push for change. She eventually won a Nobel Peace Prize for her valiant efforts against adversity.
- Aung San Suu Kyi Picture Source: The New Yorker Website
It was only in 2008 that the military decided they would move to a more democratic system of government and created a new constitution, but only in 2015 did they hold truly free elections in the country. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide.
The military however still oversaw many key areas of the country and still retained a lot of power because of the safety net that the 2008 constitution provided them. Justine Chambers, Associate Director at Myanmar Research Centre commented “The military basically used their control of the parliament to block reform, and they still maintained control of defense, immigration and also the judiciary as well”.
Due to Aung San Suu Kyi’s overwhelming support in the country, the NLD became one step closer to removing the military from their firm grasp of power in the country. The military put a hold to this immediately and seized control of the country at the earliest possible moment.
Current Situation in Myanmar
The sudden seize of power of Myanmar was startling as the country has been enjoying more freedom for almost 10 years. This has raised the question of why the military took power now? The order to seize control of the country was given by the military’s leader Min Aung Hlaing, as he was nearing retirement. It has been widely speculated that Min Aung Hlaing wanted further power to mitigate any consequences he might have to face after retirement due to his role in the genocide of the Rohingya population which was highly criticised by the international community. However, Aung San Suu Kyi defended the actions of the military instead of condoning it and this cost her the status of being an icon of the pro-democracy movement.
Aung San Suu Kyi is currently being detained but is still widely popular and millions of people have taken to the streets in support of her release. But not all the protest has been peaceful this time around, as clashes between the military and protesters have ended up killing more than 1000 civilians and thousands more have been arrested according to the United Nations. The military junta claim that the numbers of civilian deaths are widely overestimated.
Picture Source: Aljazeera Website
This systematic attack on democracy by the military in Myanmar has sparked international condemnation of their actions and it has even prompted President Biden to warn the generals that the US was ready to reimpose sanctions. “The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized, release the activists and officials they have detained,” Biden said in a statement. But the military Junta does still have powerful allies such as China and Russia, who went out of their way to block a UN council concern about the violence in Myanmar.
Min Aung Hlaing declared himself Prime Minister in August and pledged to hold elections by 2023. The ASEAN organistation is unlikely to revoke Myanmar’s membership as the organisation values resolving issues through discussions. “We never thought of removing Myanmar from ASEAN, we believe Myanmar has the same rights [as us]” commented Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah. Nevertheless, with international and local pressure mounting on the military to step down, the action to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from the summit was a powerful condemnation aimed at the military, further reminding them that it will be very difficult for the military to suppress the nation’s desire for democracy.
October 20th 2021 | 2:30 PM