Conflict, a coup, military rule – what’s really going on in Myanmar? Former Myanmar-based reporter and editor and one-time Greens candidate Alec Wilmot shares his unique insights and thoughts on the situation there.
By Alec Wilmot
I remember the moment Myanmar’s political trajectory fully came into focus for me. I was strolling around the Yangon suburb of Bahan on a sunny afternoon in 2017 when I passed a newsstand and ran my eyes over the papers. Rakhine clearance operations, what the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) was calling their savage displacement of the Rohingya minority, was the dominating story. The papers were all dutifully towing the military line; Islamic fundamentalism had finally boiled over into revolt and was being contained by the nation’s brave protectors.
It was an old chestnut of propaganda by the bellicose junta, the kind that had often been met with public derision. We Myanmar watchers were hoping the slaughter could be quickly intervened with. Then, the response of Aung San Suu Kyi, democratic stalwart, civilian government leader and many Burmese people’s personal hero, settled the issue; reports of Rohingya woman survivors, she announced, were “fake rape”. With that, the operations went on with broad public support.
I stood for a while trying to process what I was feeling. The civilian government’s endorsement of the military was unexpected. Deep down it felt like the entire democratic project was being betrayed just as it was being realised. I settled on the sad affirmation that despite the high hopes for the new constitutional order, they were unable and unwilling to break the chain of endless bloody warfare. Some went on to rationalise the decision. If the National League for Democracy (NLD) did not lend its support, the argument went, they might have simply been removed from power.
Well, this year we found out that such a coup was not just possible, it might have been made inevitable when the will of the party was tested, and it declined the confrontation. They chose to invest the people’s trust in the military, and it ultimately cost them everything.
For Aung San Suu Kyi’s part, she revealed herself to be one of the rarest political animals; a committed democratic electoralist, yes, but for an ethno-nationalist state. The Lady always played her politics close to the chest – her inner circle are all older, life-long party loyalists going back to the 1980s, and her feelings and thoughts were often made known through them.