Myanmar’s colourful trajectory from pariah state to (semi) functional democracy turned dark again yesterday. The country woke to the news that Aung San Suu Kyi, its de facto leader, and key figures from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had been detained by the military following pre-dawn raids. The coup came just hours before the national parliament was due to sit for the first time since the NLD’s landslide win in the country’s November election and triggered panic-buying in supermarkets and long queues at ATMs as banks remained closed.
Investors, who have streamed into Myanmar since it opened up to the world in 2011, appear stunned. Many are questioning whether the country is returning to an era of harsh and secretive military rule. Yesterday the military, known as the Tatmadaw, said that it was imposing a state of emergency for a year but few believe its promise that it will hold “free and fair” elections when that period is over – and even fewer accept the Tatmadaw’s allegations of election fraud in November’s poll.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who came to power in 2015, is wildly popular and her call for people to protest against the coup, posted on social media yesterday, has set the stage for an inevitable showdown. The Burmese, having lived through two of Asia’s bloodiest military takeovers since the early 1960s, are in no mood to surrender their newfound freedoms. That much was already clear when I stood in a Yangon street amid elated crowds cheering the NLD’s landslide first election victory in 2015. A wealthy Burmese businessman standing beside me reached over to glad-hand a street-food vendor, yelling, “This is the moment we have waited for; no one will ever take this away from us.”
Gwen Robinson is editor-at-large of Nikkei Asia, senior fellow at the Institute of Security & International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and Monocle’s Bangkok correspondent. Read her report on Myanmar in issue 130 and hear more of her thoughts on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.