Powered by

Two years after the coup d'état, volatile Myanmar is no closer to democracy

Though protestors are beating back, the junta's use of airpower is an obstacle

MYANMAR-POLITICS/COUP-THAILAND Protesters hold up a picture of Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing with his face crossed out during a demonstration to mark the second anniversary of Myanmar's 2021 military coup, outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Bangkok | Reuters

Two years ago this day, a random TikTok video captured a unique scene, a convoy of black vehicles heading towards the Parliament building in Myanmar. The news spread soon, the military had seized control of the country, detaining its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was democratically elected to lead the country three months before.

The coup d'état marked the return of military dictatorship in the small South Asian country after a decade. Since then, this ethnically-diverse nation is being ruled by the junta government, called Tatmadaw, led by military leader Min Aung Hlaing. 

Two years since, Myanmar continues to be volatile, unstable and dangerous. Public protests that marked the initial days - mass demonstrations and civil disobedience movements wherein tens of thousands of people, including health workers, bankers, and teachers, refused to go to work until the elected government returned to power - have escalated into an armed conflict between the military and the anti-coup People’s Defence Force. The latter is the armed wing of the National Unity Government, consisting of National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers, protest leaders, and activists from several minority groups.

Peace continues to evade as the military resorts to a widespread crackdown on protests, even launching air raids on villages and schools. Reports of crackdowns that see civilians being brutally shot in the streets and tortured in custody come from Myanmar. Most opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are under house arrest since her government was toppled. She faces a slew of charges and has been sentenced to over 33 years in prison.

Data from the United Nations reveal more than 2,000 pro-democracy civilians have been killed. Over 1.4 million people have been internally displaced and the future of Myanmar’s 54 million people remains uncertain. 

There were over 10,000 attacks and armed clashes between the military and opponents since the coup, and violent incidents in at least 78 per cent of townships between July and December 2022. For the first time in over three decades, four anti-coup activists were also sentenced to death.

But, nothing has deterred the anti-coup advocates. "Some of our comrades have died in battle but giving up now is not an option," Albert, a battalion commander for the anti-coup Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) tells Al Jazeera. The KNDF operates in Kayah State and southern Shan State near the Thai border.  

Though the anti-coup forces are striving to take control of several key urban centres, the military's use of air power is turning into a huge impediment. But while they are often successful at driving the armed forces out, the military’s increasing use of remote artillery and air power is making it hard to hold onto the territory they gain. "Airstrikes have a big impact on this… We want to take control of cities and urban areas but without air defence, it is quite difficult. Even if we can seize an area, it’s difficult to control it without air defence," said Taw Nee, spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU). 

The KNU is a member of the People’s Defence Forces and one of Myanmar’s oldest and most-powerful ethnic armed groups.

On Wednesday, to mark the second anniversary of the coup, protest leaders have called for a "silent strike," urging people to stay at home and for streets to be silent. Shops have been asked to shut businesses for several hours as they hung banners urging people to join the "revolution" against the junta. 

The use of violence by the military has made it impossible to hold even peaceful demonstrations.  

Though the military government has promised an election after the emergency period ends, there are already hints that it won't happen anytime soon. Despite expectations that the military would announce elections, the junta leaders huddle said on Tuesday that the country "has not returned to normalcy yet". 

But, Myanmar's quest for freedom continues. "The main wish for 2023 is we want freedom and to go back home," Thet Naung, an activist in the northern Sagaing region where the military and anti-coup fighters have regularly clashed, told AFP.


📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines