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Myanmar’s Military Coup

Context:

Going up against military’s will, they hold silent strike, clapping protests to mark coup anniversary

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign policies and developments affecting India’s interests), Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:
  1. About Myanmar
  2. The story so far: Situation of chaos in Myanmar
  3. Form of government in Myanmar
  4. Myanmar’s significance at the International stage
  5. Historical perspective of India Myanmar relations
  6. Importance of Myanmar to India
  7. Issues in India-Myanmar ties
  8. India and handling the recent Coup d’état
  9. How other nations reacted to the recent Coup d’état
  10. Back to basics: What Democracy? Is Myanmar under Autocracy?

About Myanmar

Myanmar or Burma (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by:

  • Bangladesh and India to its northwest,
  • China to its northeast,
  • Laos and Thailand to its east and southeast,
  • The Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal to its south and southwest.

Its capital city is Naypyidaw, and its largest city is Yangon (Rangoon).

  • Early civilisations in Myanmar included the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu city-states in Upper Burma and the Mon kingdoms in Lower Burma.
  • Following the establishment of the Pagan Kingdom in the 1050s, the Burmese language, culture, and Theravada Buddhism slowly became dominant in the country.
  • The British East India Company seized control of the administration of Myanmar after three Anglo-Burmese Wars in the 19th century, and the country became a British colony.
  • After a brief Japanese occupation, Myanmar was reconquered by the Allies and granted independence in 1948.
  • Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth.
  • Following a coup d’état in 1962, it became a military dictatorship under the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

The story so far: Situation of chaos in Myanmar

  • For most of its independent years, the country has been engrossed in rampant ethnic strife and its myriad ethnic groups have been involved in one of the world’s longest-running ongoing civil wars.
  • During this time, the United Nations and several other organisations have reported consistent and systematic human rights violations in the country.
  • In 2011, the military junta was officially dissolved following a 2010 general election, and a nominally civilian government was installed.
  • This, along with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, had improved the country’s human rights record and foreign relations and has led to the easing of trade and other economic sanctions.
  • There is, however, continuing criticism of the government’s treatment of ethnic minorities, its response to the ethnic insurgency, and religious clashes.
  • In the 2015 election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority in both houses – however, the Burmese military remained a powerful force in politics.

Form of government in Myanmar

  • In 1948, Burma achieved independence from Britain, and became a democracy based on the parliamentary system. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities.
  • The military succeeded in its coup d’état of 1962 and established a nominally socialist military government that sought to follow the “Burmese Way to Socialism”.
  • Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved in 2008, and the Multi-party elections in 2010 ended 5 decades of military rule in Myanmar.
  • The 2015 elections in Myanmar were the first openly contested elections held in Myanmar since 1990 – and this resulted in a resounding victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy raising hope for a successful political transition from a closely held military rule to a free democratic system.
  • Now, Myanmar operates de jure as a unitary assembly-independent republic under its 2008 constitution.
  • The president is the head of state and de jure head of government, and oversees the Cabinet of Myanmar.
  • The Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Defense Forces has the right to appoint 25% of the members in all legislative assembly which means that legislations cannot obtain super-majority without support from the Military. This prevents the democratically elected members from amending the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar.
  • Burma’s judicial system is limited. British-era laws and legal systems remain much intact, but there is no guarantee of a fair public trial.
  • In Burma, the judiciary is NOT independent of the executive branch.

Myanmar’s significance at the International stage

  • Myanmar is a member of the East Asia Summit, Non-Aligned Movement, ASEAN, and BIMSTEC, but it is not a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • It is a country rich in jade and gems, oil, natural gas, and other mineral resources.
  • Myanmar is also endowed with renewable energy; it has the highest solar power potential compared to other countries of the Great Mekong Subregion.

Historical perspective of India Myanmar relations

  • India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. India and Myanmar relations have stood the test of time.
  • The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people contact. India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.

Importance of Myanmar to India

  • Myanmar is at the heart of Indian government’s Act East policy with the India-Myanmar-Thailand Asian Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan multimodal project, a road-river-port cargo transport project, and BIMSTEC.
  • India is also working closely with the security forces of Myanmar to target the insurgents operating in the country’s northeast.
  • Myanmar is expected to act as the bridge between India and ASEAN, has risen in much significance in the context of India’s Act East Policy, and good neighbourhood policy.
  • Better relations with Myanmar have become crucial for India with China gradually gaining confidence of countries in the region. Further India’s completion of the projects with Myanmar would also prove India to be a responsible regional player, thus improving its reliability.
  • In terms of security and strategic partnership, several deep-sea ports of Myanmar, including Yangon and Dawei, can be crucial for India like Chabahar port in the west.
  • Myanmar is on India’s energy security radar on account of its “abundant oil and natural gas” reserves. Oil and gas companies ONGC Videsh and GAIL are aggressively scouting for more exploratory blocks in Myanmar.
  • Myanmar like the other CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) — represents a rapidly growing economy with rising consumption, strategic location and access, rich natural resources (oil, gas, teak, copper and gemstones), biodiversity and an industrious workforce with low wages. And it offers significant opportunities for trade in goods and services, investment and project exports.

Issues in India-Myanmar ties

  1. The Rohingya crisis: India does not directly engage with the issue of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. But India condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State in a measure of support to Myanmar. Further both sides agreed that there will be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs.
  2. China factor: As China’s profile continues to rise in India’s vicinity, New Delhi would like to enhance India’s presence by developing infrastructure and connectivity projects in the country. India has found it difficult to counter Chinese influence in Myanmar.
  3. Project Delays: India is losing friends because of widespread discontent over continuing delay in completion of flagship projects — Kaladan and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. Conceived over a decade back, they are scheduled to be completed by 2019.

India and handling the recent Coup d’état

  • India’s reaction is likely to be starkly different to India’s strong public criticism of the Junta’s actions in 1989-90.
  • One important reason for the change is that India’s security relationship with the Myanmar military has become extremely close, and it would be difficult to “burn bridges” with them given their assistance in securing the North East frontiers from insurgent groups.
  • Another reason for the change is Ms. Suu Kyi herself, whose image as a democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate has been damaged by her time in office, where she failed to push back the military, and even defended the army’s pogrom against Rohingyas in Rakhine State in 2015.
  • Officials also say a harsh reaction from India, on the lines of that from the United States which has threatened action against those responsible for the “coup” unless they revoke the military’s takeover, would only benefit China.
  • Apart from strategic concerns, India has cultivated several infrastructure and development projects with Myanmar, which it sees as the “gateway to the East” and ASEAN countries.
  • India still hopes to help resolve the issue of Rohingya refugees that fled to Bangladesh, while some still live in India, and will want to continue to engage the Myanmar government on that.
  • The choice between India’s democratic ideals, that it has expressed in Nepal and Maldives recently, and ‘Realpolitik’ (realpolitik is a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations), to keep its hold in Myanmar and avoid ceding space to China, will be the challenge ahead.

How other nations reacted to the recent Coup d’état

  • The United Nations led condemnation of Myanmar’s military calling for the release of elected leaders, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • The U.S., Britain, Australia and the EU condemned the military’s coup and detentions and its declaration of a state of emergency.
  • China’s response, however, was more muted, saying that China hopes that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately handle their differences under the Constitution

Back to basics: What Democracy? Is Myanmar under Autocracy?

A Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

In simple words, A democracy means rule by the people.

The two current types of democracy are:

  1. Direct democracy: The people directly deliberate and decide on legislation.
  2. Indirect / Representative democracy: The people elect representatives to deliberate and decide on legislation (such as in parliamentary or presidential democracy.)
The opposite of Democracy is Autocracy.
  • Autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person (commonly referred to as a dictator), whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of coup d’état or other forms of rebellion).
  • Both totalitarian and military dictatorship are often identified with, but need not be, an autocracy.
  • Totalitarianism is a system where the state strives to control every aspect of life and civil society.
  • It can be headed by a supreme leader, making it autocratic, but it can also have a collective leadership such as a commune, military junta, or a single political party as in the case of a one-party state.
What is military Junta?

Military junta is a government led by a committee of military leaders. The term is now used to refer to an authoritarian form of government characterized by oligarchic military dictatorship, as distinguished from other categories of authoritarian rule, specifically strongman (autocratic military dictatorships); machine (oligarchic party dictatorships); and bossism (autocratic party dictatorships).

Currently, it can be said that Myanmar is essentially ruled by a Military junta.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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