*The Tea Leaf Center is opening up our blog to provide a space and document the voices of those impacted by the recent coup in Burma/Myanmar. The opinions, analysis, and information expressed here are those of the author.*
VOICES FROM A COUP
Coup and Tatmadaw Party Nexus: Social Responses and Repercussions
By: Stephen Nyein Han Tun | Social Science Researcher
The Burma/Myanmar military, Tatmadaw, has conducted four coups since 1958. The first coup was activated by the Tatmadaw leader, General Ne Win, in 1958 while U Nu, the head of Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League government (AFPFL), ruled the country. The Junta Ne Win then formed a caretaker government.
Although the U Nu government won the election again in 1960, a second coup emerged in 1962 by Ne Win government as he took power from U Nu government and enacted the 1974 Constitution by using some of the 1947 Constitution’s laws. The Ne Win government ruled Myanmar until the 1988 uprising. The lady, Daw Aung San Su Kyi, the head of National League of Democracy, and her democratic activists were detained after a 1988 public demonstration.
The third coup occurred within Tatmadaw leadership. General Saw Maung, the founder of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), took power from Ne Win’s government by intense public demonstrations. He then facilitated an election in 1990. At that time, the NLD won the election, but the Tatmadaw leader, General Than Shwe, the head of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), took power until 2010. After drawing the 2008 constitution, the Tatmadaw leader, Thein Sein, the head of Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), ruled the country until 2015. The 2008 Constitution institutionalized Myanmar’s absolute military power. Further, the military government also structured the country’s ministries and departments. Thus, most of the retired military captains and officers become the head of government offices.
General Thein Sein thus took off the military uniform and wore the party’s uniform as the 2008 constitution legitimizes these high positions.
Their campaigns give opportunities to party members and voters. Most of the military based party voters are from military society and party members. USDP also hires people from slum areas and Burmese gangsters, also known as Swan Ar Shan Apwae. This term means “almighty team“. Notably, USDP also supports the Ma Ba Da (Buddhist monk who support Tatmadaw) and pro-military groups against the NLD government by using nationalism and anti-western ideas. These are the strategies of military power in Myanmar politics even during NLD government leadership.
The NLD government gained power in the 2016 election, and they governed the country until 2020. The NLD government also changes government bodies’ structure, but some of the military leaders also get the governors’ positions, and they have security for their wealth.
The votes reelected the NLD party in the 2020 general election. Before the coup, many pro-military groups and Tatmadaw supporter, Swan Ar Shan Apwae, and the Ma Ba Da demonstrated against the NLD government and the election (Hein Myat Soe, 2021). The USDP also disputes votes as fraud to UEC (Union Election Commission) and NLD government. Thus, due to the lack of communication and negotiation between USDP and NLD, the Tatmadaw issued a state of emergency (Myanmar Now, 2021) and conducted a coup on February 1st, 2021. The Commander in Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, said it was inevitable to take the country (Sai Wanna, 2021) from the NLD government. This is the fourth coup initiated by the Tatmadaw government in Myanmar.
The coup happened around 3:00 AM, February 1st 2021. The Tatmadaw took key leaders in the NLD government from different regions and states, including the State Counselor Daw Aung San Su Kyi and President Win Myint. The internet and communication lines were shut down on February 1st, and some essential roads and air travels were restricted. The government replaced officials with military community and the USPD party.
After the coup, the civilians and some government departments respond to the coup through non-violent movement such as civil disobedience (Hmue Angel, 2021), hitting pans and pots campaigns every night at about 7:00 PM, and spreading awareness on social platforms.
Interestingly, most of the ethnic community from peripheral sites of the country have not actively responded to the Burmese military coup. While many ethnic organizations condemn the military coup, the Ta’ang community, civil society, party and armed group are being silent in this context.
Most Ta’ang ethnic people are confused with the coup because many believe accepting the NLD government means going against the coup. The Ta’ang peoples are influenced by Ta’ang National Party (TNP), and they vote only for TNP. This party is also closely related to the Ta’ang armed group.
As we monitor the political climate in Northeast Myanmar, the Northern alliances are being silent, such as the Wa armed group. We get information that the northern alliances can also negotiate with the coup’s government. It will be a way to exist and share power in Myanmar. The previous Ta’ang armed group, Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA), also did this. They negotiated with Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt’s Tatmadaw government and signed the ceasefire agreement. The Palaung (Ta’ang) armed leaders received land with jade and ruby resources. These benefits did not go to the Ta’ang (Palaung) people. They establish the Ta’ang National Party and took positions in government to this day. It seems that the new Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and its alliances are focusing on a ceasefire agreement with Min Aung Hlaing government if they get the opportunity for their demands. They do not care about the coup.
The idea is that armed leaders can become party leaders and lead the political institution in the future. This concept is also influencing ethnic armed leaders, especially Ta’ang and its alliances. Most armed leaders think that it is easy to change from leading armed groups to becoming political leaders and take government positions. This has a significant impact on the civil community as other similar military dictators emerge amongst the ethnic community in the future.
Educators, civilians, and political activists, from lowlands and highland ethnic communities, will face challenging. We can see that most societal responses, such as uprisings and public demonstrations, are forcefully crackdown upon throughout Myanmar history. Although the international community strongly condemns the coup (AP, 2021), the Tatmadaw government hardly takes notice. Thus, Myanmar will be ruled by the Military government again, and it is impossible to trust that they will hand over leadership after a year.
I want to request the international community, United Nation, International Human Rights Organizations and International Media and Research Institutions to monitor and respond to the human rights abuses and violations against humanity that include illegal detentions and torture of academics, students, medical workers, protesters, and civilians.
AP, (2021). Governments around the world condemn Myanmar’s military coup. Retrieved from https://www.mmtimes.com/news/governments-around-world-condemn-myanmars-military-coup.html
Myanmar Now, (2021). Myanmar descends back into dictatorship as military declares state of emergency. Retrieved from https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-descends-back-into-dictatorship-as-military-declares-state-of-emergency
Sai Wanna, (2021). Myanmar military chief says takeover inevitable. 03 Feb 2021. Retrieved from https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-military-chief-says-takeover-inevitable.html
Hmue Angel, (2021). Civil Disobedience Campaign intensifies across Myanmar. Retrieved from https://www.mmtimes.com/news/civil-disobedience-campaign-intensifies-across-myanmar.html
Hein Myat Soe, (2021). Press council calls for protection of journalists covering protests. Retrieved from https://www.mmtimes.com/news/press-council-calls-protection-journalists-covering-protests.html