Commentary

Six Decades After the ‘Mother of Coups’, Myanmar Military Maintains Its Brutal Grip

By Naing Khit 4 March 2022

The coup staged by military chief General Ne Win on March 2, 1962 was the mother of a series of coups in Myanmar and spawned the endless devastation that would see a fledgling democratic country fall victim to one of the world’s longest-lasting military dictatorships.

On March 2, 2022, 60 years after the “mother” coup, Myanmar’s 55 million people still found themselves under an oppressive military dictatorship. It has been a painful fate.

Ne Win’s coup was followed by two bloody military takeovers in 1988 and 2021, continuing the devastation that has been visited on Myanmar and its entire population for three generations, during which time its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, despite their limited political liberty, and even authoritarian or military rulers, have found themselves much more prosperous and stable.

Coups are inevitable here in Myanmar whenever the generals fear that the military might be—through revolutionary or democratic means—forced to return to its barracks and give up its role in the political arena. (Here I don’t count the military takeover in 1958, because that was regarded as happening in accordance with the constitution; the then ruling elected civilian government led by Premier U Nu agreed to transfer power to the military.)

The coups are the root cause of all the political, social and economic problems of Myanmar—the deterioration in fundamental rights, political liberty, democracy and autonomy for ethnic people, as well the decline in the economy and livelihoods of the entire population.

Myanmar has always been a diverse country confronted with a complex range of issues such as demands for autonomy and equality from—and conflicts among—ethnic or political groups, even before the coup in 1962. But those problems would have been surmountable had the military and its generals stayed in their barracks without intervening in politics by force. That diversity could have even have turned into a strength in building a nation if it had been dealt with from the start with respect, integrity and political maturity through negotiations.

Everything, however, went wrong when the military and its generals staged a coup and appointed themselves as the country’s rulers against the will of the people. Since the first day, nothing has been right; nothing has been just; nothing has been fair.

The mother of the coups was the first and main source of all the ills that have brought Myanmar down.

But the Myanmar people have always resisted the generals, refusing to let them rule as they wish. They have repeatedly struggled to eliminate the terrible military dictatorship over the past six decades. Anti-regime protests and even nationwide uprisings have occurred even under the generals’ iron-fisted rule. But in the end these attempts were always crushed as the generals’ brutal mindset and sheer military might prevailed.

The only things that keep the ruling generals in power are their cruelty, their undemocratic mindset and actions, and, of course, their deadly weapons. The main justifications they offer for preserving the military’s role in politics and their takeovers are always the same: the need to preserve sovereignty, and to prevent disintegration and foreign invasion.

The last coup in February 2021 was based on a blatant lie—that the ruling National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi committed electoral fraud. The claim—espoused only by the generals led by their chief, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing—flies in the face of the fact that the NLD won more than 80 percent of the votes in the election of November 2020.

Over the generations, in their efforts to eliminate or reform the ruling generals, most Myanmar people have chosen the path of nonviolence, taking to the streets against the various regimes over the past six decades. Some took up weapons in the belief that only armed struggle can terminate dictatorial and ruthless regimes. That’s one of the reasons we find so many ethnic and political armed groups along the country’s borders, having fought consecutive regimes.

But after last year’s coup, things are totally different. Most people in Myanmar have come to believe that only fighting back against the military or eliminating the ruling generals led by Min Aung Hlaing will bring an end to this vicious circle of military rule.

That’s a major difference from the past. After the junta’s indiscriminate crackdowns against all kinds of people in the wake of its coup on Feb. 1, 2021, we’ve seen unprecedented resistance from people in all walks of life, from young students to professionals. Resistance to the regime has taken various forms from guerrilla-style nonviolent protests in urban areas to the new young armed resistance groups, generally calling themselves People’s Defense Forces, that have mushroomed over almost the entire country from Yangon and Naypyitaw regions to Chin and Kayah states.

Never before have we seen such varied and strong resistance against a military regime. While it’s virtually impossible to see how that resistance will be able to defeat the powerful military, one impressive thing is that the resistance forces and boycotts against the regime have in many ways managed to disrupt its rule. So far, the regime can’t control the country, despite its excessive restrictions and crackdowns against its opponents and the entire population.

I think the resistance forces and opponents will hold out as long as they can. Their bottom line at the moment is that as long as the regime cannot control or rule the country, they have not lost this battle.

More than one year after his coup, Min Aung Hlaing should know that he simply cannot do what he hoped to do. His rule over the past year has produced no victories, only total failure and shame. But we all know that he is a shameless general.

The reason he will fall at the end of this battle is his own evil. He has no qualms about repeatedly committing crimes and violations of all kinds, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. Every crime he commits brings his own end nearer.

All Min Aung Hlaing has done is to turn Myanmar into a killing field, a more intense battlefield, a state with even more displaced people, a massive graveyard for COVID-19 patients (especially during the third wave last year when the health care system failed), a failed economy, a much more corrupt state plagued by cronyism—the list goes on and on. Myanmar has become an absolute pariah state again under his rule, within a year. Nothing good has come about since the coup; it has had only terrible consequences.

All he has done is to dig his own grave.

The fact that he is evil and nothing but a criminal, and that his regime is the enemy of all that is good, are the very reasons that this regime and he himself will lose this battle. It is only a matter of time for him and the six-decade-long military dictatorship he continues.

Lose early or lose late.

Naing Khit is a commentator on political affairs.


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