2021 Myanmar coup d'état
The 2021 Myanmar coup d'état began on the morning of 1 February 2021 when democratically elected members of Myanmar's ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by the Tatmadaw—Myanmar's military—which vested power in a stratocracy. The Tatmadaw proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing. It declared the results of the November 2020 general election invalid and stated its intent to hold a new election at the end of the state of emergency. The coup d'état occurred the day before the Parliament of Myanmar was due to swear in the members elected at the 2020 election, thereby preventing this coup from occurring. President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained, along with ministers, their deputies and members of Parliament.
On 3 February 2021, Win Myint was charged for breaching campaign guidelines and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions under section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law. Aung San Suu Kyi was charged for breaching emergency COVID-19 laws and for illegally importing and using radio and communication devices, specifically six ICOM devices from her security team and a walkie-talkie, which are restricted in Myanmar and need clearance from military-related agencies before acquisition. Both were remanded in custody for two weeks. On 16 February, Suu Kyi received an additional criminal charge for violating the National Disaster Act.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been beset with political instability since it declared independence from Britain in 1948. Between 1958 and 1960, the military formed a temporary caretaker government at the behest of U Nu, the country's democratically-elected prime minister, to resolve political infighting. The military voluntarily restored civilian government after holding the 1960 Burmese general election. Less than two years later, the military seized power in the 1962 coup, which under the leadership of Ne Win, precipitated 26 years of military rule.
In 1988, nationwide protests broke out in the country. Dubbed the 8888 Uprising, the civil unrest was sparked by economic mismanagement, leading Ne Win to step down. In September 1988, the military's top leaders formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which then seized power. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the country's modern founder Aung San, became a notable pro-democracy activist during this period. In 1990, free elections were allowed by the military, under the assumption that the military enjoyed popular support. Ultimately, the elections resulted in a landslide victory for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy. However, the military refused to cede power and placed her under house arrest.
The military remained in power for another 22 years until 2011, following the military's roadmap to democracy, during which the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar was drafted. Between 2011 and 2015, a tentative democratic transition began, and elections held in 2015 resulted in a victory for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy. However, the military retained substantial power, including the right to appoint 1⁄4 of parliament members.
The 2021 coup occurred in the aftermath of the general election on 8 November 2020, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 396 out of 476 seats in parliament, an even larger margin of victory than in the 2015 election. The military's proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, won only 33 seats.
The army disputed the results, claiming that the vote was fraudulent. The coup attempt had been rumoured for several days, prompting statements of concern from Western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Australia.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said that Suu Kyi, Win Myint, Han Tha Myint, and other party leaders had been "taken" in an early morning raid. Nyunt added that he expected to be also detained shortly. Numerous communications channels stopped working – phone lines to the capital, Naypyidaw, were interrupted, state-run MRTV said it was unable to broadcast due to "technical issues", and widespread Internet disruptions were reported beginning around 3 a.m. The military disrupted cellular services throughout the country, mirroring "kill switch" tactics previously employed in combat zones in Chin and Rakhine States. All the member banks under the Myanmar Banking Association suspended their financial services.
Around 400 elected members of parliament (MPs) were placed under house arrest, confined to a government housing complex in Naypyidaw. Following the coup, the NLD arranged for the MPs to remain housed in the complex until 6 February. Social media users began calling on MPs to convene a parliamentary session within a government guesthouse, since the group met the Constitution's quorum requirements. In response, the military issued another order giving MPs 24 hours to leave the guesthouse premises. On 4 February 70 NLD MPs took an oath of office, in clear defiance of the coup.
During the coup, soldiers also detained several Buddhist monks who had led the 2007 Saffron Revolution, including the Myawaddy Sayadaw and Shwe Nyar War Sayadaw, outspoken critics of the military. 8888 Uprising activist leaders, including Mya Aye, were also arrested. As of 4 February, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners had identified 133 officials and lawmakers and 14 civil society activists in detention by the military as a result of the coup.
Soldiers were seen in Naypyidaw and the largest city, Yangon. The military subsequently announced on military-controlled Myawaddy TV that it had taken control of the country for one year. A statement signed by acting president Myint Swe declared that responsibility for "legislation, administration and judiciary" had been transferred to Min Aung Hlaing. The National Defence and Security Council – chaired by acting president Myint Swe and attended by top military officers – was convened, following which a statement was issued by the military declaring that fresh elections would be held, and that power would only be transferred after they had concluded. The military also announced the removal of 24 ministers and deputies, for whom 11 replacements were named.
On 2 February 2021, Min Aung Hlaing established the State Administration Council, with 11 members, as the executive governing body.
On 3 February 2021, Myanmar police filed criminal charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her of violating the Export and Import Law, for allegedly importing unlicensed communications devices used by her security detail, after conducting a raid on her home in the capital. The Export and Import Law carries a potential prison term of 3 years and/or a fine, and was previously used in 2017 to prosecute journalists for flying a drone above the Assembly of the Union. Meanwhile, Win Myint was charged with violating the Natural Disaster Management Law, specifically for waving at a passing NLD convoy in September 2020, thereby violating rules against election campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 6 February 2021, Sean Turnell, the Australian economic advisor to the civilian government, was arrested.
On 8 February 2021 and 9 February 2021, the military government issued orders to impose curfew from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am in Yangon and other major cities and restrict gatherings of 5 or more people in the public spaces.
On 9 February 2021, the NLD's headquarters in Yangon was raided by Myanmar police. Myanmar military regime distributed a draft for the controversial Cyber Security Law to internet service providers, asking them to provide comments by 15 February 2021. The law was widely criticized by IT communities as it violates human rights by putting citizens under digital surveillance and severely restricting freedom of speech. News of China's involvement in building the firewall were widely circulated among Myanmar social media users, which prompts protestors to demonstrate outside the Chinese Embassy. China denied the news as rumors.
On 10 February 2021, civil servant at Kayah State protested against the coup, which also included police officers stationed there when they refused orders from their superior to return back to work.
On 12 February 2021, at midnight, members of Myanmar's military and police arrested government ministers, election officials, senior members of the NLD, activists, and a former general.
On 13 February 2021, a viral post online showed that the military-run Ministry of Information (MOI) pressured the press not to use the words "junta" and "regime" in the media in the military's first attempt to restrict the freedom-of-press. The military regime issued an arrest warrant for seven well-known activists and influencers including Min Ko Naing for using their fame to spread writing and speaking on the social media that would disturb the nation's peace process.
On 15 February 2021, the military deployed armoured vehicles across the cities, in an attempt to silence the demonstrations in the country. Thousands of protestors in different cities across Myanmar had been calling for the release of Suu Kyi. On 16 February, as protests continued, Aung San Suu Kyi was given a new criminal charge on allegations of violating the country's National Disaster Law.
On 17 February 2021, the military issued arrest warrants on six more celebrities for urging civil servants to join the civil disobedience movement.
On 26 February 2021, the Myanmar ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, condemned the coup by the Tatmadaw. He was sacked from his post the next day.
The military's motives for the coup remain unclear. Ostensibly, the military has posited that alleged voter fraud threatened national sovereignty. A few days before the coup, the civilian-appointed Union Election Commission had categorically rejected the military's claims of voter fraud, citing the lack of evidence to support the military's claims of 8.6 million irregularities in voter lists across Myanmar's 314 townships.
The coup may have been driven by the military's goal to preserve its central role in Burmese politics. The Defence Services Act imposes a mandatory retirement age of 65 for the Armed Forces' Commander-in-Chief. Min Aung Hlaing, the incumbent, would have been forced to retire on his 65th birthday in July 2021. Further, the Constitution empowers solely the President, in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council, with the authority to appoint Min Aung Hlaing's successor, which could have provided an opportunity for the civilian arm of the government to appoint a more reform-minded military officer as Commander-in-Chief. Hlaing's lack of power would have exposed him to potential prosecution and accountability for alleged war crimes during the Rohingya conflict in various international courts. Min Aung Hlaing had also hinted a potential entry into politics as a civilian, after his retirement.
The activist group Justice for Myanmar has also noted the significant financial and business interests of Min Aung Hlaing and his family, as a potential motivating factor for the coup. Min Aung Hlaing oversees two military conglomerates, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), while his daughter, son, and daughter-in-law have substantial business holdings in the country.
A few days before the coup, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had released $350 million of cash to the Central Bank of Myanmar, as part of an emergency aid package, to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The funds came with no conditions, and without any precedent for refunds. In response to potential concerns regarding proper use of the funds by the military regime, an IMF spokesperson stated “It would be in the interests of the government, and certainly the people of Myanmar that those funds are indeed used accordingly.” The IMF did not directly address any concerns regarding the independence of the Central Bank, given the military's appointment of Than Nyein, an ally, as governor.
The legality of the coup has been questioned by legal scholars, including Melissa Crouch. The International Commission of Jurists found that, by staging a coup, the military had violated Myanmar's constitution, since the alleged election irregularities did not justify the declaration of a state of emergency in comport with the Constitution. Further, the jurists found that the military's actions had violated the fundamental rule of law principle. The NLD has also rejected the legal basis for the military takeover.
During its announcement of the coup, the military invoked Articles 417 and 418 of the 2008 Constitution as the legal basis for the military takeover. However, Article 417 of the Constitution authorises only a sitting president to declare a state of emergency, following consultation with the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). The incumbent civilian president Win Myint had not voluntarily ceded his role; instead, the state of emergency was unconstitutionally declared by vice president Myint Swe.
The declaration of a state of emergency then transfers legislative, executive, and judicial authority to the Commander-in-Chief per Article 418. Half of the NDSC's members at the time of the coup were civilians, including the president, the civilian-elected second vice-president, and the speakers of the upper and lower houses, all of whom had been arrested by the military. The military claims that the NDSC was convened, chaired by Min Aung Hlaing, to invoke Articles 417 and 418. However, this session was held in the absence of the civilian members of the NDSC, and it is unclear whether the military had the constitutional authority to reconstitute a session of the NDSC, or to unilaterally declare a state of emergency through a vice president, since the Constitution grants the president, who at the time had not voluntarily vacated his role, the sole authority to declare a state of emergency.
Civil resistance efforts have emerged within the country, in opposition to the coup, in numerous forms, including acts of civil disobedience, labour strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, a red ribbon campaign, public protests, and formal recognition of the election results by elected representatives. The three-finger salute has been widely adopted as a protest symbol, while netizens have joined the Milk Tea Alliance, an online democratic solidarity movement in Asia. "Kabar Makyay Bu" (ကမ္ဘာမကျေဘူး), a song that was first popularised as the anthem of the 8888 Uprising, has been revitalised by the civil disobedience movement as a protest song.
Since the onset of the coup, residents in urban centres such as Yangon staged cacerolazos, striking pots and pans in unison every evening as a symbolic act to drive away evil, as a method of expressing their opposition to the coup.
On 2 February, healthcare workers and civil servants across the country launched a national civil disobedience campaign, in opposition to the coup, with workers from from dozens of state-run hospitals and institutions initiating a labour strike. A Facebook campaign group dubbed the "Civil Disobedience Movement" has attracted 170,000 followers, since its initial launch on 2 February.[verification needed] As of 3 February, healthcare workers in over 110 government hospitals and healthcare agencies have participated in the movement. The labour strikes have spread to other parts of the civil service, including union-level ministries and universities, as well as to private firms, such as factories and copper mines, students, and youth groups.
On 3 February, healthcare workers launched the red ribbon campaign (ဖဲကြိုးနီလှုပ်ရှားမှု), the colour red being associated with the NLD. The red ribbon has been adopted by civil servants and workers across Myanmar as a symbol of opposition to the military regime.
On 3 February, a domestic boycott movement called the "Stop Buying Junta Business" campaign also emerged, calling for the boycott of products and services linked to the Myanmar military. Among the targeted goods and services in the Burmese military's significant business portfolio include Mytel, a national telecoms carrier, Myanmar, Mandalay, and Dagon Beer, several coffee and tea brands, 7th Sense Creation, which was co-founded by Min Aung Hlaing's daughter, and bus lines.
Public protests have also emerged in the wake of the coup. On 2 February, some Yangonites staged a brief 15-minute protest rally at 8 pm, calling for the overthrow of the dictatorship and Suu Kyi's release. On 4 February 30 citizens protested against the coup, in front of the University of Medicine in Mandalay, an act that led to four arrests. On 6 February, 20,000 protestors took part in a street protest in Yangon against the coup, calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released. Workers from 14 trade unions participated in the protests. Protests spread to Mandalay and to the Pyinmana township of Naypyidaw on the afternoon of 6 February. The Mandalay marches started at 1 pm. Protestors continued on motorbikes at 4:00 pm in reaction to police restrictions. Police were in control by 6 pm. On 9 February 2021, the military used violence to crackdown on peaceful protests, injuring six protestors, including a 20-year old woman who was shot in the head. About 100 demonstrators were arrested in Mandalay. On 10 February 2021, most of the arrested demonstrators from Mandalay were released.
Youth groups protested on the roads by wearing cosplay costumes, skirts, wedding dresses, and other unusual clothing for daily life while holding signboards and vinyl banners that break with the country's more traditional protest messages for the purpose of grabbing attention from both domestic and international press media.
On 12 February, the Union Day in Myanmar, junta's crackdown in Mawlamyine became more intense as shots were fired. Gunfire was heard in Myitkyina, Kachin State, when security forces clashed with protesters on 14 February. Five journalists were arrested afterwards. Troops have joined police in forcefully dispersing marchers using rubber bullets and slingshots in the city of Mandalay.
On 4 February, telecom operators and internet providers across Myanmar were ordered to block Facebook until 7 February, to ensure the "country's stability." MPT, a state-owned carrier, also blocked Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services, while Telenor Myanmar blocked only Facebook. Facebook had been used to organise the civil disobedience campaign's labour strikes and the emerging boycott movement. Following the Facebook ban, Burmese users had begun flocking to Twitter, popularising hashtags like #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, and #SaveMyanmar. On 5 February, the government extended the social media access ban to include Instagram and Twitter. On the morning of 6 February, the military authorities initiated an internet outage nationwide. Internet access was restricted by the government again since 14 February 2021 for 4 days, from 1:00 am to 9:00 am.
Thailand's largest industrial estate developer, Amata, halted a $1 billion industrial zone development project in Yangon in response to the coup, after commencing construction in December 2020. Suzuki Motor, Myanmar's largest automaker, and several manufacturers halted domestic operations in the wake of the coup. The Yangon Stock Exchange has also suspended trading since 1 February. Myanmar's real estate market crashed as a result of the coup, with sales and purchase transactions dropping by almost 100%. On 4 February, French oil multinational Total SE announced it was reviewing the impact of the coup on its domestic operations and projects.
On 5 February, Kirin Company ended its joint venture with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). The joint venture, Myanmar Brewery, produces several brands of beer, including Myanmar Beer, and has an 80% market share in the country. Kirin's stake had been valued at US$1.7 billion.
On 8 February, Lim Kaling, co-founder of Razer announced he was divesting his stake in a joint venture with a Singaporean tobacco company that owns a 49% stake in Virginia Tobacco, whose majority stake is owned by MEHL. Virginia Tobacco, Myanmar's largest cigarette maker, owns the Red Ruby and Premium Gold brands. That evening, Min Aung Hlaing made a televised address, aiming to ease concerns about Myanmar's foreign investment climate.
US President Joe Biden announced his administration will impose sanctions on the military leaders of the coup in Myanmar and freeze 1 billion dollars in government assets held in the United States on 11 February.
After several protesters were shot dead by the military during the protests on February, Facebook responded by suspending several accounts belonging to governments including Tatmadaw and its news website, Tatmadaw True News, and MRTV, due to these pages linked to promoting violence. On 25 February, Facebook banned all accounts of the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), along with its related commercial entities. The tech giant also implemented the move on Instagram.
Many countries, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Singapore, expressed concern in response to the coup, many of which encouraged dialogue between the government and the military in order to resolve the issue. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States on their part condemned the coup and called for the release of detained officials; the White House also threatened to impose sanctions on coup perpetrators. Subsequently, President Biden approved an Executive Order for new sanctions on the coup perpetrators which would enable his administration to affect the perpetrator's business interests and close family members.” President Biden also stated that he would freeze $1 billion US assets belonged to the Myanmar's government while maintaining support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly.”
In response of the coup, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country has suspended its diplomatic ties with Myanmar a week after the coup; the New Zealand government also banned some high ranking elites in military government. Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam explicitly refused to support a side, characterising the coup as an internal matter. On 9 February 2021, New Zealand suspended all high-level contact with Myanmar and imposed a travel ban on its military leaders because of the coup.
Intergovernmental organisations, including the United Nations, ASEAN, and the European Union expressed concern and called for dialogue from both sides. In addition to concern, the European Union also condemned the coup and urged the release of detainees.
In response to the coup, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting, where a British-drafted resolution urging the "restoration of democracy" in Myanmar, condemning the Myanmar military's action, and calling for the release of detainees was proposed. The statement was not issued because of failure to garner support from all 15 council members; the diplomats of China and Russia reportedly have to relay the draft to their respective governments for review. China and Russia, as permanent members of the council and therefore having the power of veto, refused to back the statement. India and Vietnam, two non-permanent members, also "voiced reservations" about the resolution.
On 26 February 2021, the South Korean National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the coup.
A group of about 200 Burmese expatriates and some Thai pro-democracy activists including Parit Chiwarak and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul protested the coup at the Burmese embassy on Sathon Nuea Road in Bangkok, Thailand. Some protesters reportedly showed the three-finger salute, the symbol used in the protests calling for democracy in Thailand. The protest ended with a police crackdown; two protestors were injured and hospitalised, and two others were arrested. Burmese citizens in Tokyo, Japan gathered in front of the United Nations University, also to protest against the coup. On 3 February, more than 150 Burmese Americans protested in front of the Embassy of Myanmar in Washington, D.C..
The Singapore Police Force has issued warnings against foreigners planning to participate in anti-coup protests in Singapore. On 14 February 2021, SPF officers arrested three foreigners for protesting at the outskirts of the Myanmar embassy without permits to participate in a public assembly. The Public Security Police Force of Macau has warned Myanmar residents that they are not allowed to conduct anti-coup protests as Article 27 of the Macau Basic Law only allows Macanese residents the right to do so.