Opinion

Myanmar Making Noises for Democracy

By Mon Mon Myat 8 February 2021

I was woken early last Monday with a call from an international news agency covering the military coup in Myanmar.

This news shocked me because I had miscalculated the generals’ attitude. I had thought military chief Min Aung Hlaing would not take the chance while under the threat of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law and while the country struggles with COVID-19. I was wrong. Neither international pressure nor the pandemic was serious enough for Min Aung Hlaing.

Within a few hours of the coup, the situation turned upside down. The homes of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint were raided.

The 20-lane highway outside the parliament was blocked with military hardware and elected members of parliament were held hostage in their accommodation. No one was allowed to go into the ghost city.

On the same day, crowded Yangon became very quiet. Queues formed at ATMs and people tried to buy rice and other food. The internet was temporarily cut as soldiers raided telecoms offices. Soldiers smashed into the control room at Myanma Posts and Telecommunications, an employee confirmed.

As Facebook is the main means of communication in Myanmar, we immediately lost connection with the outside world. A desperate sadness and anger among people grew because their beloved leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and U Win Myint are being detained and elected MPs are held hostage in Naypyidaw. Once the internet returned, anger against the coup grew on Facebook.

Three of my closest friends, politician U Mya Aye, film director U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and writer U Htin Lin Oo, posted on Facebook that soldiers had arrested them. Some ’88 Generation leaders, U Min Ko Naing, Ko Jimmy and Daw Nilar Thein went into hiding to avoid arrest.

Broadcasts from the Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima went down after the coup and it is unknown when they will return, although posts continue online and on Facebook. Journalists feel endangered but continue reporting with limited access and high risks.

Military-owned Myawaddy TV said the military-appointed vice-president, ex-general Myint Swe, had transferred power to the Tatmadaw (military) under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution for a year. The Tatmadaw’s justification is based on allegations of the Union Election Commission’s fraud during the November general election. Most people believe this is just an excuse. The military wants to take back power from the people because of its guardianship mindset. They believe in militarism, not democracy. As “might is always right” for the authoritarian leader, violence is always possible.

Senior National League for Democracy (NLD) figure U Win Htein posted a video on Facebook saying: “The country’s economy is going down. At this time, the fact [Senior General Min Aung Hliang] conducted a coup shows that he doesn’t think about the future.”

The NLD repeated Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal for people to oppose the coup through nonviolent means and civil disobedience, such as online campaigns and boycotting military law.

I was live reporting the whole day, giving updates. All the NLD’s chief ministers and the ministers of information, health, education and telecommunications were detained. They were forced to resign and move from their official residences within three days. The whereabouts of key NLD leaders are unknown.

Friends warned me to keep quiet on Facebook to arrest. As a political journalist and writer, I cannot keep quiet. The minute I heard about the coup, I was ready to report to the international media. I was feeling desperate that our young democracy is likely to die in the darkness of military dictatorship. My parents experienced the 1962 coup and I lived through the 1988 uprising. My son has experienced his first coup, aged 21. It is totally unacceptable. So I cannot keep quiet on Facebook for fear of arrest. I keep posing to stimulate my friends, journalists, writers, poets and intellectuals in my social network to think of every way to fight against military rule.

People soon started banging pots and pans, honking car horns, lighting candles and singing revolutionary songs at 8 pm to oppose the coup. At 8 pm when I was preparing for live reporting, I heard nothing in my neighborhood, so I banged pans on my balcony. Within a few seconds, my neighbors joined in and car horns started honking non-stop for half an hour. Our campaign was very successful one day after the coup. We clearly said, “no”, to the military. It brought me some hope and silenced my desperation. I realized that I was not alone. I collected people’s videos of the “drum revolution” for Facebook. Myanmar’s demands for democracy are being heard around the world.

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