Will the Tatmadaw Be Able to Maintain the Status Quo?

A year has passed since the Myanmar military, Tatmadaw, seized power by orchestrating the infamous coup d’état in February 2021. The resistance against the Myanmar army has been tremendously growing in the recent past especially after the politically motivated imprisonment of Suu Kyi and other leaders of National League for Democracy (NLD). The situation is going out of control for the Tatmadaw with the growing resentment among the citizens. Relentless resistance through insurgency movements in different states and virtual movement using social platforms, it is assumed that the Tatmadaw will no longer be able to maintain the status quo likewise they hinged on power in the 1962 onwards.

The Nobel Laurent Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made a landslide victory in the 2020 national election against the military supported Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). When the NLD government came to power in 2016, they quested for reducing the military role through dismantling the 1975 State Protection Law and the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and amending the Ward and Village Tract Administrator Law. However, she failed to substantiate her role in protecting the rights of the minorities especially the Rohingyas. The brutal violence against the Rohingyas since August 2017 and her support to the military in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) questioned her promise to ensure peace and democracy in Myanmar.

The deportation of Suu Kyi from the Myanmar politics seems to be obvious with the total six years’ imprisonment — comprised four-year sentence on Dec. (later commuted to two years) and an additional four years’ imprisonment on Jan. 10, 2022. But with another seven charges including alleged corruption and breaching the Official Secrets Act, there is possibility of lifetime imprisonment. To be realistic, the democratic transition of Myanmar depends now on to the next leadership of the NLD and with the hand of the National Unity Government (NUG). NUG is a shadow government of Myanmar which is battling for their legitimate political goal against the Tatmadaw.

The failures of Suu Kyi — protecting minority rights and ensuring equality — need to be mended with the hand of the next leader. The promised Rohingya repatriation will be a turning point in this regard. The decision of NLD to invite the Rohingyas in the Spring revolution on June 3 last year was perhaps the most dramatic move in the political history of Myanmar — driven by a new generation of young leaders who have enjoyed relatively more freedom from military ruling since the democratization started after the 2008 election and onwards.

Since the February coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, over 1500 people have already been murdered and burnt; 9160 politicians, healthcare workers, and others detained; and more than 200 reportedly killed in custody. Evidently, the Tatmadaw has taken the same path of “war against its own citizens” that they have successfully utilized in the past in subduing popular uprising against the military regime. However, the diverse and widespread upsurge is putting tremendous pressure on the Junta. The unanimous resolution against Myanmar in the UN third Committee, sidelined in the ASEAN summit and lastly deep concern all over the world after the politically motivated sentence against Suu Kyi has put the last stich of their dim global support. The military now is in a dilemma that they cannot hold the power or hand over the power to the NLD or the shadow government namely NUG.

Undoubtedly, the Tatmadaw needs to acknowledge the mistakes they have done through the de facto coup d’état to revitalize their position in the political landscape. However, with prior experience of democratization without developing the democratic institution, it is easily assumed that conflict will be more intense. In the book Myanmar’s Enemy Within, Francis Wade with his journalistic orientation has showed how crippled democratization process has contributed to the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas. In fact, the geocide against the Rohingyas can be spelled as policy failure of the Suu Kyi-led NLD government. Therefore, Myanmar military can utilize the issue of Rohingya repatriation to mend their mistakes. A good referral point is the two successful repatriation initiatives in 1978 and 1992-93 during the military regime in power.

To sum up, Myanmar has suffered decades of military rule, civil war and ethnic conflicts that were partially changed after the democratic reform process began with the saffron revolution. The 2008 Constitution, which is still in place, has led Myanmar towards a semi-democratic model of governance; however, failed to end the bloodbath of the Tatmadaw and they forcefully returned to power. To avoid the escalation of conflicts as well as economic turmoil, there is no way out except acknowledging their mistakes and work for the people; not against them.

[Photo by Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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