Control of Myanmar has been forcibly taken by the country’s military in a successful coup on Monday. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leader since 2016, has been detained along with other government officials.
Myanmar began to form a democratic government system in 2011. Prior to this, the country had been military-controlled since 1962, having gained independence from Britain in 1948. The country had seen previous uprisings against the authoritarian regime, with thousands having been killed in crackdowns on the pro-democracy movement. Aung San Suu Kyi has long been an important campaigner in the fight for democracy, and was detained between 1989 and 2010 for her role in organising the protests. In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2015, Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the first openly contested election in 25 years. She has received criticism for the military’s crackdown in 2017 on Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Myanmar that the government has consistently refused citizenship to. Thousands were killed, and over 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Ms Suu Kyi has denied allegations of genocide, despite the United Nations calling the crackdown a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Despite controversies, Aung San Suu Kyi has maintained high approval ratings, and won a landslide victory in last year’s election. Her NLD party won over 80% of available seats. Military officials argue there is evidence of election fraud, and used this to justify the recent coup. Independent observers, including the US’s Carter Center, said that there was no evidence to support these allegations of fraud. The Carter Center said polls took place “without major irregularities being reported by mission observers”. However, the military, led by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, says it has evidence of over 10.5 million irregularities, including potentially ineligible voters.
The international response has largely condemned the actions of Myanmar’s military. The UN security council, while not specifically calling it a coup, said in a statement in reference to Monday’s events: “The members of the Security Council emphasised the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar,” they “stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
Barbara Woodward, Britain’s UN ambassador, said “it is important that we speak with one voice on the need for Myanmar to restore its democratic processes and release those detained”. The UK, EU, and Australia have all condemned the coup, and US President Joe Biden has suggested sanctions may be necessary if those detained are not released and democracy is not restored.