Myanmar Coup: All you need to know


Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a south-east Asian nation that shares its border with 5 countries including India. Myanmar, which got independence from the British in 1948 as a democratic nation, was under military rule from 1962 to 2011. The military rule was abolished in 2011 and a civilian government was established.

Myanmar adopted its new Constitution in 2008. Subsequently, general elections were held in 2010 but they were boycotted by the National League for Democracy as it refused to accept the new Constitution, and resultantly, the Union Development and Solidarity Party won the polls. The 2015 general elections of Myanmar were the first free, openly contested, and fair polls after the end of military rule[1]. The National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi had swept the 2015 polls.

Myanmar Military

Myanmar’s military played a key role in its freedom struggle. Myanmar got its independence under the leadership of the Burmese Independence Army. The Myanmar Army has successfully crushed several insurgency operations by various ethnic groups. Myanmar’s military prides itself on the claims of holding the country together during the civil war and preventing the disintegration and division of the country. However, the military has been infamous for its violent methods of crushing pro-democracy movements. The military had shot protesters during the 1988 and 2007 pro-democracy protests.

The 2008 Constitution guaranteed significant social, political, and economic powers to the military. The military was allotted 25% of the seats in the Parliament. The Constitution also gave the military the power to veto any amendment to the Constitution and control of key ministries such as home affairs, border affairs, and defense.

Myanmar’s Military Coup

The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, had won almost 80% of the votes in the November 8 elections, the country’s third general elections after the new Constitution was adopted in 2008. The opposing Union Development and Solidarity Party, which was backed by the Myanmar military, refused to accept the humiliating defeat. Resultantly, the Myanmar military alleged that the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi in the general elections was based on malpractices and illegal activities. She has been accused, by the Myanmar military, of owning illegal walkie-talkies and violating the Covid restrictions during her election campaign. The military alleged that there were more than 10.5 million fraud votes. However, the Myanmar election commission continued to endorse the election results and dismissed all the allegations. The convening of the new Parliament had the coup not taken place, would have ratified the election results.

On 1st February, the military announced a coup on the Myawaddy news channel which is a military-owned TV channel. The news channel cited that the 2008 Constitution empowers the military to declare a national emergency. The military declared a one-year emergency and detained various leaders of the National League for Democracy including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The leaders were detained and kept in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. A night-time curfew was also enforced by the military. Domestic TV channels were called off the air and the banks were forced to close down. Internet and social media platforms were also shutdown. The military also removed and replaced several ministers after assuming power.  Both domestic, as well as international flights, were suspended. Furthermore, the stock market was also closed down.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Gen Aung San, who played a key role in Myanmar’s independence struggle. Aung San Suu Kyi has been very famous among the Myanmar public and won a landslide victory in the year 2015 as well as in the 2020 general elections. She has also received a lot of international fame for her role in promoting democracy in Myanmar. She has been a former political prisoner and has spent around 15 years under house arrest in her struggle for democracy. She has also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. However, her support for the military in the violent crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims was widely criticized. She defended the Myanmar Military before the International Court of Justice in 2019 and denied all the allegations of genocide committed by the military.

Who’s In Charge Now

Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of the Myanmar Army has taken charge of Myanmar. He is infamous for his role in violence against the ethnic minorities of Myanmar and has faced several international sanctions. He has led several campaigns against the ethnic minority groups such as the Rohingya Muslims. Min Aung was set to retire this year but the coup could extend his tenure indefinitely and could increase his control over Myanmar substantially. Myint Swe, who was Myanmar’s first Vice-President has been appointed as the acting President of Myanmar.


The military is struggling to maintain its control over Myanmar in the face of international pressure and domestic pro-democracy protests. The toppling of the democratically elected government within weeks of the general elections and a few hours before the new Parliament was set to convene has angered the general public. Millions of protesters took to the streets to protest against the military rule. The protesters announced a Civil Disobedience Movement. They represented various sections of the society such as civil servants, industrial laborers, bank employees, and doctors. Several doctors also warned of going on strike. The military has threatened to use force against the protesters and has already killed dozens of protesters.[2]More than 30 protesters were killed on March 3 itself. More than 1500 protesters have been detained by the Myanmar authorities.[3]

The Myanmar military has said that it will reconstitute the election commission and will investigate the voter list. It has also promised the holding of elections and transferring the power to the winning party. However, the military has not specified as to when will the general elections be held.

Legality of the Coup

The coup violates Myanmar’s Constitution. The declaration of the year-long emergency does not have any legal backing as Article 417 of the Myanmar Constitution provides that an emergency can be declared by the President only when there is a risk to the sovereignty of the country whereas the allegations made by the military, in context of the election, do not seem grave enough to threaten the sovereignty of Myanmar. Also, Article 418 provides that the power must be handed over to the commander in chief by the President. However, in this case, the President was detained and the emergency was declared by the Vice-President.

The right to Habeas Corpus has also been suspended by the military which amounts to a violation of international law. Several arbitrary provisions have been made by the military such as criminalizing even peaceful protests and enabling arbitrary arrests and detention. Ever since coming to power, the military has suspended section 5, 7, and 8 of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizens and has amended certain sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure Amendment Law, and has made them non-bailable. Similarly, the army also amended the Penal Code (curbing the right to free speech and expression), Ward or Village Tract Administration Act (increasing surveillance on people’s movement), and the Electronic Transactions Act (criminalizing various cyber activities and granting arbitrary powers to the agencies to investigate cybercrimes). These changes in the legal system have led to gross human rights violations.

There will be several legal as well as economic implications of the military coup. The United States said the military takeover amounted to coup d’etat and suspended all foreign aid granted to Myanmar. Myanmar is also a party to several bilateral agreements such as Korea-Myanmar Bilateral Investment Treaty, Japan-Myanmar Bilateral Investment Treaty, etc. Certain provisions of these treaties provide protection to the investors against discriminatory, non-transparent, and arbitrary changes in government policies. The coup might amount to a violation of some or all of these provisions as the military will be more concerned about consolidating its control than protecting the interests of the investors while formulating the policies. 

International Response

The Myanmar Coup was condemned by several international organizations along with the European Union and the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the state of affairs in Myanmar. However, the Security Council’s statement condemning the military coup was blocked by China. The US President condemned the coup. Additionally, the US also imposed sanctions on several current and retired leaders of Myanmar’s military and warned them for further sanctions. It also granted temporary legal status to the people of Myanmar living in the US for the next 18 months. On the other side, The European Union is also considering imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military. The United Nations Human Rights Council has also passed a resolution deploring the removal of the democratically elected government. Other countries such as Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom also condemned the military move. South Korea has suspended the defense exchanges and is reconsidering the development aid granted to Myanmar. However, some countries such as China have refrained from condemning the move.

India’s Concerns

India had hailed the November 8 elections as a step towards “democratic transition in Myanmar”[4]. India has close diplomatic and economic ties with Myanmar and has expressed “deep concern” over the current state of affairs in Myanmar.[5]Myanmar shares its borders with four Indian northeastern states (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram). India has also undertaken several projects in Myanmar such as the Kaladan Connectivity project. India has provided $1.75 billion to Myanmar as developmental assistance and is currently working on a road project which would connect  India to Thailand through Myanmar. It is also helping Myanmar in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and has supplied 3.7 million vaccine doses to Myanmar. However, The Myanmar military has also helped India in curbing insurgency in the north-eastern Indian states.

After the coup, several police officials of Myanmar fleed to the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur on the grounds that they were facing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities, on the other hand, have requested India to return the police officials to Myanmar. If a large number of people will migrate to India from Myanmar then it would create a new crisis in itself. The peace and stability of Myanmar are certainly a point of concern for India.


Myanmar has long suffered from political and social instability. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from detention and her subsequent landslide victory in 2015 elections were considered to be a turning point in the history of Myanmar. The West celebrated it as the biggest stepping stone in Myanmar’s fight against military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi believed that cooperating with the military would facilitate the evolution of Myanmar as a democratic country.

However, she was wrong. The current military coup has sent shockwaves across the world. Myanmar seems to be going back to that phase from where it emerged after decades of struggle. The military coup can take back Myanmar to full military rule. The present crisis comes at a time when Myanmar’s economy has been battered by the covid pandemic and the banking sector is struggling to survive. The coup and the resulting international sanctions will further weaken the economy. The Myanmar military must realize this and should step back and hand over the power to the democratically elected government.

This article is authored by Gautam Badlani, student at Chanakya National Law University.

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