Myanmar: Military’s rogue move puts country at dangerous and disturbing crossroads

The warning signs have been growing but many hoped the military wouldn’t drag Myanmar onto this perilous road.

Last Tuesday, the military sparked alarm when a spokesperson refused to rule out a coup but as the week went on, it seemed to be rowing back noting it needed to “abide by the constitution.”

By declaring a state of emergency and announcing it was seizing power for a year via this mechanism, military leaders are clearly trying to suggest their actions are legitimate and being done via constitutional means.

But make no mistake, this is a coup in all but name.

There is no state of emergency in Myanmar, the fabric of society isn’t falling apart and the disputed election certainly does not justify calling one.

Officially, any state of emergency needs to be signed off by the president, but he was picked up and detained along with the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials in pre-dawn raids.

The arrests happened hours before the public announcement of a state of emergency making the picture even murkier.

Whatever justification the military gives this is an exceptionally concerning development.

“Whichever way you look at this, it’s an illegal seizure of power by the military from the civilian, elected government. In real terms, that’s a coup,” says Ismail Wolff, regional director, Fortify Rights.

The question is what happens now?

Countries including the US and Australia have already come out to strongly denounce any assault on democracy, as has the UN, and as the day continues more warnings will undoubtedly follow.

But Myanmar’s military is used to weathering international criticism, most recently over the alleged genocide of the Rohingya in 2017.

Information about what’s happening on the streets is limited with internet and phone lines apparently down in some cities, but the few pictures which are appearing show the public is worrying, queuing at cash machines trying to get their money out.

In the past, clashes between the people and military have resulted in civilian blood being spilt and Aung San Suu Kyi and her party are popular, winning 80% of the vote in November’s election.

This rogue move by the military has put Myanmar at a dangerous and disturbing crossroads.

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