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Myanmar will not return to pre-democracy era: Chula political scientist


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Three factors led to Monday’s coup in Myanmar when the military seized power from the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, said a Thai political scientist and government adviser on Tuesday.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Chulalongkorn University associate professor who chairs the security advisory committee for PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, also cautioned Thailand would have to tread carefully over the coup d’etat that ended six years of civilian rule in the neighbouring country.

Troubled power transition

Panitan, speaking in a personal capacity, said the first factor that led to the coup was the troubled power transition from military to civilian rule since the return of free elections in 2015.

Although Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has scored landslide wins in general elections, numerous clashes between politicians and the army reflected Myanmar’s troubled transition from military dictatorship to democracy.

The NLD had governed alongside the military in ministries, in a power-sharing agreement that was not always successful. Tensions between soldiers and politicians, coupled with conflicts within the NLD, burdened public administration and led to economic stagnation, Panitan said.

Suu Kyi tarnished by Rohingya crisis

The second factor behind the putsch was Suu Kyi's vague stance on the killings of Rohingya in Rakhine state, which drew international condemnation and undermined her status as a human rights icon on the world stage. This likely led to a calculation by the army that staging a coup would not trigger huge international pressure.

NLD’s landslide win

The third factor was last November’s election result, where Suu Kyi’s party was expected to win fewer votes but instead scored a landslide victory.

Around 83 per cent of NLD candidates were elected for super-majorities in both houses, while the army-backed party won just a few seats.

The military alleged widespread electoral fraud and then used this as an excuse to seize power.

Myanmar’s election commission admitted there had been irregularities concerning different minorities and lists of voter names. Pressured by the military pressure to create new lists, the electoral commission refused to do so.

The military then called for Monday’s reopening of parliament to be postponed, but the NLD dismissed the request. Negotiations between the military and NLD failed, after which Suu Kyi and senior officials across the country were detained by troops.

Response by world powers

The international community is clearly not supporting Suu Kyi as strongly as it once did, but this situation may change, said Panitan. US President Joe Biden has stated that measures will be taken in response to the coup. The situation in Myanmar presents a big challenge to US attempts to counter China’s influence in the region, especially if Myanmar returns to military dictatorship, he added.

The US would likely seek allies for its response to the coup. It may take one or two days to lobby different countries, before releasing a joint statement with the European Union and US allies in Asia, including Australia.

At the same time, Myanmar’s military would have to move carefully, as seen in the vagueness of its initial announcement. The military apparently tried to ease international pressure by promising to hold a new election within one year.

Impact on Thailand

Thailand may need to prepare extra border controls in case Myanmar civilians flee the country.

Meanwhile the Asean community must assess the situation, Panitan said.

However, the regional bloc was unlikely to make any strong moves or express clear opposition to the coup since it had a policy of non-interference in members’ internal affairs.

As for Thailand, it should retain a neutral and balanced approach, while convincing all parties to talk to each other and find a peaceful resolution, he added.

Myanmar ‘won’t close country again’

Another issue worrying many countries was a possible return to Myanmar’s pre-democracy era as a fully military-controlled state. However, closing off the country again would trigger pressure from civilians following the transition to a democratic system in 2010. Instead, the military could focus on economic recovery to win support from the public, which would allow the army to play a bigger role.

Myanmar would find it difficult to return to a closed society where political opinions are suppressed. However, since becoming an open democracy, the country has not been run very successfully, said Panitan. It was therefore possible that Myanmar may take a step back to consider its development without closing the country.

However, the rise of the liberal idea among Myanmar’s younger generation – who see the open system in many countries, including Thailand – would pressure Myanmar against sliding back to its era of junta rule, he added

Published : February 02, 2021

By : The Nation