Amid National Political Upheaval, Arakanese Attitudes Toward Coup Relatively Muted 

People across Myanmar including in rural areas took part in the 1988 pro-democracy general strike, but today people from some parts of Myanmar are completely silent on the military coup. In some parts of the country, anti-coup protests have taken place but are relatively small, and it is questionable whether anti-military coups have left many people in ethnic states angry. 

14 Mar 2021

By Min Htee | DMG 

It’s been more than a month since the Tatmadaw seized power and detained the President and State Counsellor on February 1, following the government and Union Election Commission’s failure to address the military’s skepticism of the 2020 general election results in Myanmar. 

Anti-coup protests, and many government employees’ refusal to return to work as part of a coordinated Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that began the day after the military coup, continue to gain momentum across the country. 

The mass protests — dubbed Myanmar’s “Spring Revolution” — are largely being led by young people, and to this day the State Administration Council continues to carry out violent crackdowns on protesters in cities and towns across Myanmar. Scores of protesters have been killed by the security forces. 

The current region and state governments appointed by the State Administration Council have not been able to operate the administrative mechanism, and many private businesses have shut down. Businesses critical to the national economy, including the private banking and shipping industries, have ground to a halt following the February 1 coup. The State Administration Council has had little success winning acceptance on the world stage, and the United Nations has issued several statements expressing concern about the worsening situation in Myanmar. 

Although the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) was formed of elected MPs denied their seats in Parliament, it is composed predominantly of representatives from the formerly ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). It remains unknown at this time what the CRPH will do. It is not possible to regain state power just by forming a parliamentary representative committee, and it remains to be seen whether it will function in the same way until a rival government is formed. 

Protestors have taken to the streets demanding, among other things, the release of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and that the results of the 2020 general election be honoured. Ethnic minority groups have led the charge in a renewed push to repeal the 2008 Constitution and establish a federal democratic union. A statement issued by the CRPH on March 6 indicated that repeal of the 2008 Constitution was part of its policy.

Last month’s coup was the third in the 73 years since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. General Ne Win took power in 1962 by overthrowing Prime Minister U Nu’s government, which had essentially ruled since 1948 under the 1947 Constitution. After the coup, U Ne Win’s government repealed the 1947 Constitution and transformed the country from a multi-party democracy to a one-party system under the 1974 Constitution, ruling for 28 years from 1962 to 1990. The National League for Democracy (NLD) secured more than 72% of seats in the 1990 general election that followed the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, but the Tatmadaw, led by General Saw Maung, did not accept the election results. 

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), later changed to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), led by Senior General Than Shwe, drafted the 2008 Constitution and held general elections in 2010, 20 years after Myanmar’s second coup d’état. About 10 years later, the Tatmadaw led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power again. 

People across Myanmar including in rural areas took part in the 1988 pro-democracy general strike, but today people from some parts of Myanmar are completely silent on the military coup. In some parts of the country, anti-coup protests have taken place but are relatively small, and it is questionable whether anti-military coups have left many people in ethnic states angry. 

Arakan State, in particular, has been relatively quiet, with few anti-coup protests. There has been no anti-coup action to date across large parts of Arakan State, with the exception of Taungup, Thandwe Gwa, Ann and Manaung townships, where support for the NLD is strong. Why? This has become something for us to think about; whether the current issue is a matter between the NLD and the Tatmadaw or is a matter for the Union as a whole. People in Arakan State were actively involved in past anti-coup protests, as well as the Saffron Revolution’s mass demonstrations, and almost all ethnic groups in Myanmar do not like the current military coup. Everyone will understand that the whole country has the same feeling that union affairs are for everyone. 

The main problem is that the structure of the Union of Myanmar differs from that of Burmese political leaders and that of non-Burmese leaders. The “Panglong” commitment to the mountainous areas has been forgotten by Burmese political leaders since the assassination of General Aung San, and has not been recognised by the Tatmadaw, which has often taken opportunities to consolidate power in Myanmar’s politics. 

After independence in 1948, ethnic leaders in the mountainous areas demanded the implementation of the Panglong Pledge, and the Karen rebelled in 1948 because the ethnic groups did not have equal political rights with mainland Myanmar. Union affairs were bitter for the ethnic nationalities until the wife of Myanmar’s first president, Sao Shwe Theik, opted for an armed revolution under the 1947 Constitution. 

When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi entered Myanmar politics amid the 8888 [August 8, 1988] Uprising to the point of being called a people’s leader, the ethnic nationalities also supported her. The NLD won a landslide victory at the union level in the 1990 election, but that win was cast aside by the Tatmadaw and all of the party’s prominent politicians, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were charged and imprisoned. 

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been hailed by both armed ethnic groups and ethnic political leaders as a leader and advocate for equal rights and a democratic, federal union. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was influential among ethnic political leaders until the 2010 election, which the NLD and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) — an alliance of winning political parties from the 1990 general election — boycotted because the 2010 vote’s foundation was the 2008 Constitution. 

Members of the UNA registered as political parties after the NLD contested the 2012 by-elections. The NLD won enough seats to form a government in the 2015 general election. The NLD has said it has not recognised the UNA since taking office and will not ally with any ethnic party. The political rights of the states that the ethnic leaders had hoped for were no different from the past. 

The Arakan National Party (ANP), which won the most seats in Arakan State in the 2015 general election, demanded the right to form the state government, but the NLD upheld the 2008 Constitution. Ethnic political leaders seem to be well aware that the government and parliament led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have tried to amend articles that restrict one person, such as Section 59(f), and that there is no policy for the emergence of a federal constitution and union favored by ethnic nationalities. 

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not choose a path of alliance with ethnic groups to work for ensuring peace, federalism and political equality in Myanmar, but rather sought to smooth military-civilian relations and opted for the constitutional amendment route. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi went so far as to appear before the International Court of Justice to defend the Tatmadaw’s human rights abuses during 2017 “clearance operations” in northern Arakan State. 

More than 300 civilians have been killed and more than 700 have been injured by artillery shellings, stray bullets and landmines during heavy fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Tatmadaw in Arakan State since early 2019. However, the government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not sided with the Arakanese people, ignoring the government’s responsibility to its people and instead praising the Tatmadaw.

The government declared the Arakan Army to be a terrorist group and blocked internet access in northern Arakan State for more than a year. Arakanese people were angry with the government for these actions, and the dream of building a federal democratic union has disappeared from the minds of the Arakanese people. 

As a result, it is no longer possible for the Arakanese people to take part in the current anti-military coup protests, and the dream of federalism and equality in Myanmar does not seem to exist in the Tatmadaw or in Burmese political leaders. 

Therefore, for the past five years, the Arakanese people seem to have taken the view that the peace of the Arakanese people in the current coup does not support the military coup, and that the NLD’s view of the ethnic nationalities is not different from that of the military. Therefore, for the ethnic states, there is only the perception that the military and the NLD will rule by force as usual. 

The current movement against the military coup is not a source of hope for the masses in Arakan State, and the CRPH’s statement said it would be difficult for ethnic groups to support the repeal of the 2008 Constitution and the emergence of a federal system.