The military has staged a coup in Myanmar - here's what it means

Monday, 1st February 2021, 10:02 am
Updated Monday, 1st February 2021, 10:02 am
NLD supporters celebrate in front of the party's headquarters in Yangon following a landslide victory in the November 2020 election (Photo: YE AUNG THU/AFP via Getty Images)

The army of Myanmar has taken control of the country, with reports also saying State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under detention, in an apparent coup d'état.

An announcement on the military-controlled Myawaddy TV on the morning the country’s new Parliament session was to begin (1 February) said there will instead be a new election at the end of a one-year state of emergency.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the military coup, criticising the ‘unlawful imprisonment of civilians’

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“I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar,” he tweeted. “The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”

Suu Kyi’s political party the National League for Democracy (NLD) has urged the people of Myanmar to oppose the coup, saying the military’s actions were unjustified and went against the constitution and the will of voters.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Bangladesh and India to its northwest, China to its northeast, and Laos and Thailand to its east and southeast.

It is the largest country in Mainland Southeast Asia, and the 10th largest in Asia by area. As of 2019, the population was about 54 million.

Its capital city is Naypyidaw, and its largest city is Yangon.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi is a politician, diplomat, author, and a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who serves as State Counsellor of Myanmar. She has played a vital role in Myanmar's transition to partial democracy across a political career that spans over 30 years.

Her party won 81% of the seats in Parliament in Myanmar’s 1990 elections, but the results were nullified as the military government refused to hand over power.

Suu Kyi then spent almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010 under house arrest, becoming one of the world's most prominent political prisoners.; in 1999, Time Magazine named her a "Child of Gandhi", a spiritual heir to his nonviolent resistance in campaigning for civil rights.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi pictured in February 2020 during a trip to Hehoe airport (Photo: THET AUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

She is the leader of the NLD and the country’s first State Counsellor, a position equivalent to a prime minister that was created in 2016 to allow her a greater role within the Government after the NLD’s landslide victory in the 2015 general election.

Despite a decisive victory for her party in that election, the military retained substantial power in the country, including the right to appoint a quarter of parliament members.

The next general election was held on 8 November 2020, during which the NLD secured an even bigger majority than they had done five years previously, securing 396 out of the 476 seats available in parliament.

Why has the coup happened?

A coup is the removal of an existing government from power, usually through violent means, and typically an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a political faction, the military, or a dictator.

The military's proxy party – the Union Solidarity and Development Party – won only 33 seats in last year's elections.

But the army disputed the results, claiming that the vote was fraudulent.

A coup attempt had been rumoured for several days, and on 1 February, an NLD spokesman said that Suu Kyi and other party leaders had been "taken" in an early morning raid.

Communications channels across Myanmar stopped working. Widespread internet disruptions were reported from around 3am (8.30pm GMT), phone lines to the capital were interrupted and the state-run MRTV said it was unable to broadcast due to "technical issues.”

How has the UK responded?

Soldiers have been seen on the streets of Naypyidaw and Myanmar's largest city, Yangon (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK Government is “very concerned” about the military coup in Myanmar, social care minister Helen Whately has said.

“It is clearly an extremely worrying situation in Myanmar,” she told Sky News. “We clearly support democracy, support free and fair elections. We will hear from the Foreign Secretary later. The Government will be putting out a position.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “The UK condemns the state of emergency in Myanmar and the unlawful detention of figures in the Civilian Government and civil society by the military.

“The democratically expressed wishes of the people of Myanmar must be respected, and the National Assembly peacefully re-convened.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, The Scotsman