Police fired canon into protesters in Myanmar. Photo: EPA.
Police fired water cannon into protesters in Myanmar. Photo: EPA.

The country's elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained along with members of her party and the military is taking the lead.

What is happening right now in Myanmar?

The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud.

The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims.

The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.

Ms Suu Kyi is under house arrest and has been charged with possessing illegally imported walkie-talkies. Many other NLD officials have also been detained.

Who takes lead in the military coup?

On Monday, after months of saber rattling about alleged irregularities in Myanmar's Nov. 8 general election, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing staged the country's third coup since independence from Britain in 1948.

The commander in chief of defense services invoked powers based on Section 417 of the 2008 military-drafted constitution that enables the holder of his office to wrest full legal, judicial and executive power to create an instant dictatorship.

Dubbed the "stiletto coup" for its ungentlemanly, knife-in-the-ribs nature, Min Aung Hlaing's putsch was bloodless -- at least in the first few days -- compared to the last one on Sept. 18, 1988. That left an estimated 500 dead on the streets following six weeks of pro-democracy protests in which another 3,000 people were killed nationwide.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, and President Win Myint were among those arrested. Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies. Criminal convictions could be a bar to future public office.

Who is Senior General Min Aung Hlaing?

Born the southern city of Dawei in 1956, Min Aung Hlaing studied law in Yangon before entering the Defense Services Academy in 1974 on his third attempt, according to Nikkei Asia.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has taken the reins of power in Myanmar after deposing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in the Southeast Asian country's latest military coup.   © APF/Jiji
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has taken the reins of power in Myanmar after deposing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in the Southeast Asian country's latest military coup. © APF/Jiji

"The senior general is not a listener -- he talks and others listen," Nicholas Coppel, Australia's former ambassador to Myanmar, told Nikkei Asia. Coppel had a number of formal meetings with the senior general in the capital, Naypyitaw. "This big man management style is conducive to ignorance and arrogance," he added, noting "the isolation that comes from being at the top." In 2016, Min Aung Hlaing postponed his retirement by five years -- a bad omen, it turned out.

Why military stage the coup?

Myanmar’s powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing had raised doubts about last year’s election results even before the polls were held. “We are in a situation where we need to be cautious about the outcome,” he told the local media before the November 8 elections, the Hindu reported.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the polls by winning almost 80% of the vote, while the Army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) suffered a humiliating defeat. The USDP did not accept the result. The military-backed the USDP’s allegations of fraud, without offering any evidence.

Myanmar’s Union Election Commission dismissed the allegations and re-endorsed the results. On Monday, hours before the new Parliament was to convene, the Generals moved into action. They detained State Counsellor Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other top leaders of the NLD. They declared a state of emergency for a year, and took power in their hands. Myanmar, which started a fragile transition to democracy 10 years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship, is back in the hands of the Generals.

What does the Army want?

The timing of the coup is self-explanatory. It unfolded hours before the new Parliament was scheduled to convene. Had it happened, the results would have been constitutionally endorsed. Tensions have been rising between the NLD and the military ever since the November election. The 2015 and 2020 election results showed the growing popularity of Ms. Suu Kyi and the unpopularity of the military. The 2020 elections were held after the Army launched a brutal crackdown on Rohingya in Rakhine State in the name of fighting terrorism, which forced over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee Myanmar to neighbouring countries, mainly Bangladesh. The Army was also projecting Commander in Chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as a tough soldier dedicated to the security of the country. He went to social media to popularise his activities. (His Facebook pages were taken down after the Rohingya crackdown).

But neither the war nor the public relations work helped the army-backed politicians win elections. With 166 seats reserved for the military, the USDP wanted only 167 seats to form the government and appoint the next President (according to some reports, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has presidential ambitions), whereas the NLD needed 333 seats for an outright victory. The voters gave the NLD 396 seats, while the USDP ended up with just 33. This set the alarm bells ringing in the headquarters of Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is called. The Generals may have sensed that even the limited democratic experiment was gradually threatening the military’s entrenched interests with Suu Kyi remaining immensely popular. Ms. Suu Kyi had tried to buy peace with the Generals in her first term, especially on the Rohingya issue. She defended the Army crackdown on the Rohingya, which UN investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”. But the Generals were still not pleased.

How have people reacted?

The protests over the coup have been the largest since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of the country's monks rose up against the military regime.

Women protest on Wednesday against the military coup that toppled the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month. The Biden administration on Thursday announced sanctions against several of the coup leaders. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
Women protest on Wednesday against the military coup that toppled the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month. The Biden administration on Thursday announced sanctions against several of the coup leaders. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Protesters include teachers, lawyers, students, bank officers and government workers.

Water cannons have been fired at protesters, and the military has imposed restrictions in some areas, including curfews and limits to gatherings, BBC reported.

What has the international reaction been to the coup?

The UK, EU and Australia are among those to have condemned the military takeover.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it was a "serious blow to democratic reforms".

US President Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions.

China’s reaction has been largely predictable. The foreign ministry spokesperson ‘noted’ the situation in Myanmar and hoped that ‘all parties in Myanmar will properly handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework to maintain political and social stability’. Today, following news of the UN Security Council meeting, the foreign ministry spokesperson noted that any international action should help political and social stability in Myanmar and avoid intensifying conflict.

ASEAN’s current chair, Brunei, called for ‘dialogue among parties, reconciliation and the return to normalcy’. Expect little to be done as ASEAN member states are split in their reactions. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia expressed concern, while Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines noted that this was Myanmar’s ‘internal affair’.

Among Myanmar’s neighbours in the region, however, the reactions were more measured. India released a statement expressing concern and reiterating its support for Myanmar’s democratic transition. However, New Delhi will likely be cautious of overtly criticising the military owing to its deepening security relationship with the Tatmadaw and cooperation on counterinsurgency and border management along its troubled north-eastern border, which included a three-week long coordinated operation in May 2019. A joint visit in October 2020 to Myanmar by India’s foreign secretary and chief of army staff reflected the importance of security ties to the bilateral relationship. After the visit India gave Myanmar its first submarine.

What’s next?

The Army says it has declared an emergency as the NLD government failed to act on its complaints on voter fraud. It has promised elections, without offering any time frame. But the NLD has called for protests against the coup. The U.S., which under President Obama helped the transition, has reacted harshly. India has expressed “deep concern”. But if China’s response is any indication, the Generals won’t face any heat from Beijing. This means, they could circumvent pressure from the U.S., even economic sanctions, by moving closer to China, which is already making huge investments in Myanmar. But Suu Kyi’s popularity and an energised NLD that was in power for five years would be an impediment for them. And their own unpopularity, a burden.

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