Tensions in Myanmar are at an all-time high after the country’s military seized power in a coup Monday morning, detaining democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the government.
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in the country’s November elections, winning more than 80 percent of the vote.
The military coup comes as the country’s new parliament meets for the first time, with generals justifying the power struggle accusing widespread electoral fraud that resulted in the army imposing a year of emergency.
As a military convoy rushed towards the path of the soldiers who had blocked the road to the Myanmar parliament, a sports teacher was unwittingly caught on camera.
The teacher is seen dancing to cheerful techno music, apparently oblivious to the fact that a military takeover is taking place right behind him.
The footage was originally posted to Facebook by Khing Hnin Wai, a sports teacher at the Ministry of Education who regularly posts exercise videos from the same location in Naypyidaw. The video has been verified by Storyful.
Footage of the coup shocked social media viewers after telephones and internet in the capitals of Naypyidaw and Yangon were interrupted and state TV turned off after leaders from the NLD party were arrested.
Troops lined the streets of Yangon’s commercial center as residents rushed to stockpile supplies from markets and others connected at ATMs to withdraw cash, before banks cut service due to poor internet connections.
The coup has sparked international outrage, with many world leaders condemning Myanmar’s military and calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained officials.
Citizens were urged to protest
Suu Kyi has not been heard or seen since the military took control, but the statements she wrote in anticipation of the coup were published on the NLD’s verified Facebook page.
“The military action is an act of bringing the country back under a dictatorship,” read the statement, which contained Suu Kyi’s name but was not signed.
“I urge the people not to accept this, to respond and with all my heart to protest the coup by the military.”
The statement was issued by party chairman Win Htein, who in a handwritten note at the bottom emphasizes that it is genuine and reflects Suu Kyi’s wishes.
“In my life, I swear, that this request to these people is Aung San Suu Kyi’s genuine statement,” he wrote.
Some pro-military supporters celebrated the coup by parading through Yangon in pick-up trucks and waving national flags, but others were shocked.
“Our country is a bird that has just learned to fly. Now the army is breaking our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun told Reuters.
Mobs of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand protested in front of their embassy after the news broke on Monday.
Dressed in red, the color of the NLD, Myanmar protesters in Bangkok held up a poster of the military commander reading “Shame on you, dictator”.
“I woke up today and saw the news that Ms. Suu was arrested. I want her to be released,” one protester told Thai media.
“The army ruled our country for 50 years and we suffered.”
About two dozen riot police attempted to disperse the protest, clashing with protesters.
A police spokesman said several people were detained for questioning after Thai protesters threw stones and colored smoke bombs.
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Suu Kyi, 75, is a hugely popular figure in Myanmar for her persistent stand against the military.
In 1991, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his decision to challenge the country’s military rule and he was heralded as a beacon for human rights.
His opposition to the military saw him spend nearly 15 years under house arrest, between 1989 and 2010.
In 2015, his party won a landslide victory, but the constitution prohibited him from becoming president. Despite this, he is widely considered to be the country’s de facto leader.
Suu Kyi’s international image was torn during her time in power after she defended a military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the country’s Rohingya Muslim community.
About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators say constituted genocide.
Despite this, he still has many supporters in Myanmar, which saw him win a landslide victory in the 2020 elections.
Who is Min Aung Hlaing?
General Min Aung Hlaing is the head of Myanmar’s military and arguably the most powerful individual in the country.
The 64-year-old became commander of the country’s military in 2011, when Myanmar began a transition to democracy after decades of military rule.
When the NLD won the election in 2015 and came to power, she appeared to be adapting to the transition, appearing on various shows with Suu Kyi.
However, he did ensure the military continues to have government influence by holding 25 percent of parliamentary seats.
In 2017, he was criticized for a military crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority, whose operations he supervises.
It was General Hlaing’s comments after the 2020 elections that raised fears of a planned military coup.
He said revoking the constitution ruled by the 2008 junta could be “necessary” under certain circumstances following allegations of voter fraud.
General Hlaing’s comments, translated into English and published in the army-run Myawady newspaper, sent shockwaves through a youthful democracy, which is only a decade out of the grip of 49 years of military dictatorship.
What is happening right now?
With a one-year state of emergency now in effect in Myanmar, all power has been transferred to General Hlaing.
Myint Swe, a former general who runs Yangon’s powerful military command and current vice president of Myanmar, will become acting president for next year.
However, it will be the military commander running the show.
In a statement read on military-run Myawaddy TV signed by Swe, he said “legislative, judicial and executive powers” had been transferred to General Hlaing, effectively returning Myanmar to military rule.
The army then promised to hold new elections after a year-long state of emergency.
“Free and fair multiparty elections will be held and then the responsibility of the state will be left to the winning party,” said a statement on the military’s official Facebook page.
No matter what happens next, the general will try to “pile up the game in his favor”, said Herve Lemahieu of Australia’s Lowy Institute.
Governments around the world have condemned the military coup, with New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, the US, Canada and Singapore just a few countries that have expressed concern.
US President Joe Biden has warned of a return to sanctions for Myanmar if the military does not back down.
“The United States will defend democracy wherever it is attacked,” Biden said, demanding that the military “immediately relinquish the powers they have taken”.