Is Myanmar’s Military Junta Losing Its Political and Military Influence?

The military junta in Myanmar has been facing a number of unexpected challenges since it usurped state power. There are several signs that the junta is becoming more stressed in the face of concerted attacks from the nation’s fringe political movements, in contrast to its historically uncontested grasp on power. Despite the rise and ongoing claim of Myanmar’s alternative government, known as the National Unity Government (NUG), international recognition of the government remains elusive, frequently due to complicated geopolitical factors.

Laying the Foundation

The military junta in Myanmar overthrew the elected government in February 2021 after the country’s general election was declared invalid under the pretense that it had been rigged. Despite the fact that the NLD (National League for Democracy) decisively won the election with 396 out of 476 seats, and despite the military’s initial declaration that the election was conducted successfully, the sudden accusation made it clear that the military was vying for power out of concern that its influence would be reduced in the wake of the NLD’s overwhelming victory. An immediate year-long emergency was declared after the coup, the principal figure was swiftly imprisoned, and the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief assumed control.

Following the coup, the Tatmadaw reverted to its prior behavior and suppressed the nation’s nascent democratic institutions and rights that had arisen as a result of liberalization. The junta openly copied the tactics of the tyrants and used violent force to suppress any kind of opposition to its unlawful takeover of power. Soon after, the military imprisoned citizens, democracy campaigners, political figures, and businesspeople. In addition, violence against nonviolent protestors was used freely by the junta since torture and murder had been weaponized to quell opposition. Despite the junta’s lip regard to constitutional norms, the 2008 constitution was in fact abrogated by the coup, ushering in a period akin to Myanmar’s protracted military dictatorship.

The junta passed a number of harsh laws depriving the people of Myanmar of legal protections in an effort to further solidify its control over the country’s political institutions. The new legislation’s execution jeopardized basic liberties and made it easier to seize state power without being restricted by loud backlash from the populace. In addition, the junta restricted access to the internet on occasion, as well as social networking sites and online publications, and blocked them. In addition, the junta took a number of ground-breaking measures to quell the growing public resentment of its administration. Because the tense ethnic ties were exacerbated and a resumption of civil conflict was predicted, the coup expedited Myanmar’s descent into a failed dictatorship.

Junta Facing Multidimensional Reaction

The Junta’s violent methods provoked a strong reaction from the younger generation, who were adamant that nothing short of military conflict could bring democracy back. The junta also faced significant difficulties on the military and military fronts. As the campaign for civil disobedience gained strength, the development of a shadow government strengthened it even more, posing more political difficulties for the junta. The National Unity Government (NUG), which pushed for international recognition, claimed to be Myanmar’s legitimate government. Soon, NUG had expanded the scope of its authority by creating an armed branch known as the “People’s Defence Force” to launch military operations against the junta and exert pressure on the military front as well.

Due to long-standing local insurgencies that had split Myanmar historically, the difficulties were further exacerbated. The local junta authorities face military opposition from the ethnic groupings, making it impossible for them to regain political authority. In addition, the intense worldwide scrutiny made the junta a pariah on a global scale and an outcast in the area despite its lack of decisive action, hinting to a diplomatic turnaround for the regime. The military junta was also unexpectedly endangered by these efforts since it was blocked on three fronts: diplomatic, military, and political. However, the Junta developed relationships with various insurgent organizations, particularly the Arakan Army. That unique connection has been broken, though, as the Arakan Army now prefers to increase its influence within the Rakhine State. As the interests could not be resolved, the Junta grew more and more hostile to the Arakan Army. Thus, there were clashes between the two sides in August.

Junta at Dangerous Cliff’s Edge

Due to the loss of its previous presence in Rakhine, the military junta is presently in a dangerous situation there. In addition, the Arakan Army had attacked the Junta military, causing them to lose significant military positions and seriously impair their supply and communication networks.

It is now clear that the junta’s strategic advantages are still insignificant despite using violent force and repressing dissident voices without discrimination. According to media sources, the NUG is in control of a startling 52% of the country, while the junta only has authority over 17% of it. Therefore, it is clear that the Junta had lost its prior influence and control over Myanmar’s political and military spheres as the NUG administration, supported by local movements, has gained strength there.

Distraction techniques

Given its obvious inability to successfully solidify its authority, the junta has adopted strategies used by other dictatorial regimes all over the world. As with previous dictatorial regimes, the junta administration used provocative airspace breaches on a regular basis to maintain its grip on Myanmar while also attempting to escalate relations with Bangladesh. The norms of international law are opposed to this gratuitous breach of violation, which translates to an encroachment of sovereignty. The regime had no remorse that would have stopped the government from committing such egregious violations of international law since there are no examples of the international community taking significant action against Myanmar to hold it responsible in cases of its prior transgression. Additionally, the junta had become anathema on the international stage, and the ASEAN also took measures against it, such as refusing to invite a representative of the junta government to ASEAN meetings and summits, which is equivalent to refusing to recognize the junta as the legitimate government of Myanmar.

Additionally, the loss of the junta’s political and military influence and the open hostility of both regional and international players toward the Myanmar Junta portend poorly for the junta’s capacity to maintain power in the future. The lack of any international response to earlier transgressions bolstered the junta’s use of diverting techniques, which were manifested in wanton airspace violations. These activities flagrantly violate international law. In this situation, the existence of a government that openly rejects international law, in this crucial strategic location, has unsettling ramifications for the regional and international entities with an interest in maintaining world peace and stability. Furthermore, any battle doesn’t stay contained inside the borders of a specific country; rather, it reverberates across the whole world, as the Ukraine war convincingly indicates. To prevent the area from devolving into instability in the future, world and regional actors must take immediate measures to stop the junta from engaging in hostile international behavior and to reinstate a democratic administration.

[Photo by Mil.ru, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Dr. Shakuntala Bhabani is a Kolkata-based educator (Assistant Professor) and Southasian affairs researcher in the Political Science department at Kolkata Honors College, India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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