What America Can Learn From the State of Democracy in Myanmar

Eric Ward

In the early hours of Monday, February 1st, the armed forces of Myanmar, known as the Tatmadaw, staged a coup to take control of the country from its democratically-elected civilian government. President Win Myint and State Counsellor (Prime Minister) Aung San Suu Kyi, among other members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party were arrested in military raids and are being held in undisclosed locations. Military blockades and patrols deployed to several cities. TV and radio stations were shut down, and the country’s internet services were disrupted. As the oppressive military regime returns to power, the decades of hope, strife, and progress for Myanmar’s democracy have been erased.

The journey to democracy in Myanmar was not an easy one. Following its independence from the British Empire in 1948, the citizens of the former Burma colony hoped to transition to a democractic civilian government. This hope lasted until the 1962 coup, when the Tatmadaw took control of the country. The Military Junta (otherwise known as the military government) ruled Myanmar while suppressing democratic activists until 2011, when the pro-democracy movement successfully pushed the Tatmadaw to transition the country to civilian rule. However, after just 10 years of freedom from military rule, Myanmar has fallen back into the grip of tyranny.

Given Myanmar’s troubled history with the Tatmadaw, tensions between military and civilian authorities continued to exist even as the country returned to democratic rule. The Tatmadaw kept several cabinet positions in Myanmar’s government, and also maintained a presence in the elected legislature in the form of the Union Solidarity and Development Part (USDP). The NLD defeated the USDP, however, in a landslide victory during the November 8th, 2020 national election. Following this humiliating defeat and fearing the loss of even more power, the Tatmadaw began to allege election fraud, despite having little evidence of such. The date of the coup was no mistake, either, as the first session of parliament was set to begin, which would have certified the results of the election. 

The aftermath of the Myanmar 2020 election will not sound unfamiliar to most Americans. False allegations of election fraud and attempts to overthrow the government existed in the United States following the recent Presidential election as well. Though coups and dictatorships may seem like events that only occur in distant lands, a more comprehensive plan by insurrectionists on January 6th could have caused America to meet the same fate as Myanmar. The last several months have become one of the greatest tests of American democracy, and Myanmar’s coup should serve as a warning for what is in store should we fail.

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