Follow @southasiaanalys

Myanmar: Army Consolidates its Grip on the Country after the Coup

Paper No. 6750                   Dated  6-Feb-2021
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Except for a few odd exceptions, the response of the general public to the Army Coup has been rather muted.  Two reasons are given.  One- Most of the NLD leaders including Suu Kyi are in jail and there has not been any time to strategise any response.  The second was a clear message from Suu Kyi that protests should be peaceful and violence should be avoided at any cost.
But there have been visible protests at many places.  Many people in Yangon and Mandalay expressed their opposition to the take over by banging their pots and pans throughout the night.  
The University Students both in Yangon and Mandalay staged demonstrations.
While most of the Parliamentarians who had assembled in the Parliament Guest House, Nay pyi taw had left the building on the demand of the Army, about six dozen of them have chosen to remain in the Guest House.  They took the oath also “as Parliamentarians for the people”
Min Ko Naing, the famous youth leader of the 88 uprising who had spent most of his youth in prison, urged the public to take “no recognition- no participation” approach to the new regime.  Min Ko Naing said- “We can no longer be the slaves of the military dictatorship, content with the pennies they spare.  May we all live as human beings with our fundamental rights”  He may have also been taken to custody by now. On the arrest of Suu Kyi he said that it is an insult to the hearts of the people.
Another well wisher and Patron of the NLD- the 81-year old U Win Htein has already been taken into custody again for his call to oppose the military regime.  
Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint have been charge sheeted by the Police on flimsy grounds- the former for purchasing walkie talkie sets for her security in violation of the Export Import law and the latter, for conducting an election rally against the rules of the Government to prevent the spread of Wuhan Virus.  Convictions for the offences may go up to three years that would make them ineligible to contest the elections!
Nearly half of the 54 million people in Myanmar use face book and this has been blocked by the military regime.  The military has justified the blocking for the sake of ‘stability’ while they were the ones who have created all the instability.
The most vocal opposition came from the Parliament member Daw Phyu Phyu Thien who bravely said that “no one can take away the legitimacy of being a member of the Parliament granted by the people.”  It is just a question of time before she will be arrested by the Military on trumped up charges and may even go to the extent of sentencing her for a criminal offence which will keep her away from contesting.
While individual nations have condemned the Army take over, the Security Council once again showed that it is a toothless Tiger.  It could not take a common position as both China and Russia wanted more time to be given to the new regime before taking any position.  The Russians need the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) as huge military hardware purchases are already in the pipeline from Russia. And China is after the BRI!
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China made a comic statement that the developments in Myanmar are akin to a “major Cabinet Reshuffle.”  Hypothetically, if Xi Jinping is removed would they call it a cabinet reshuffle?  
While the US has threatened sanctions, ironically the Chinese would also welcome sanctions as that would throw Myanmar back into the lap of China!
One of the first orders issued by the Military Chief is to direct the Chief Justice, Judges of Supreme Court and Judges of Regional and State High Court to resume their duties.  Incidentally the Chief Justice is said to be an ex Military Officer.
On the evening of the 1st and continued on the 2nd, the security forces raided all the NLD offices and many of the offices have been sealed.
A “State Administrative Council” has been formed by the Army Chief that consists of the Chief as the Chairman and ten others as members to oversee the administration.  The Dy. Chief of the Army Gen. Soe Win is the Vice Chairman and another General is the Secretary.  Three civilians were first inducted of whom two of them represent parties that split away from the NLD and are arch enemies of the NLD.  The third one is a former Karen National Union Leader who incidentally lost in the present election.  It is learnt now that five more additional members and four ministers have been inducted afresh in the State Administrative Council.  Among the new entrants, is the notorious U Thaung Tin, founder of the KMT Computer Group.
Both the Attorney and Auditor Generals have been replaced with more pliable officials.  Significantly, a new election body has been formed and is to be chaired by U Thein the famous individual who manipulated the 2010 elections to get the maximum number of seats to the Army’s proxy-the USDP and an Ex General Thien Sein was made the President.
The Army has also succeeded in getting the Arakan National Party (ANP) to cooperate with them  The ANP held a grudge against NLD and Suu Kyi in not getting their own party leader as the Chief Minister last time though they were in a majority.  Another grievance was that elections were not held this time in most places of Rakhine State on grounds of security though this decision was taken on the recommendations of  the Army.
Another turn coat happens to be a former critic of the Army, Da Aye Nu Sein who has been now been made a member of the State Administrative Council.
So far as I could see, the protests that are going on and planned later are not going to have any impact on the military administration who are known for their ruthlessness and who will not hesitate to use overwhelming force on its own people. I recall the massacre of hundreds of young students and other protestors on the road leading to Sule Pagoda in the 1988 uprising.
Second, international pressure may not work and the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing has already factored it in his move to capture power.  He must have realised that the Chinese will not seriously object to the coup once he sounded the Chinese Foreign Minister on 12th Jan.
Generally, the people are docile and law abiding and nothing like what we saw of the farmers’ protest on the Republic Day in India when the national flag was insulted.  And the Army will not hesitate to use fire arms to put down demonstrations.
It is a tough job for India that has the interests of the north eastern states in India.  A good rapport has been painstakingly built with the Myanmar Army. It should also be noted that one additional voice from India against the military take over is not going to make any difference on the ground.
The contours of the plan of the Army are also getting clear.  They would keep both Suu Kyi and other top leaders of the NLD out of the next elections and get a submissive political party like USDP to lead the Country.  The Army Chief who is due to retire may continue for another five years or may get himself elevated as the next President!