On This Day

When Burma’s Cries for Democracy Were Answered With a Coup

By The Irrawaddy 18 September 2019

YANGON—On this day 31 years ago, exactly one month and 10 days after Myanmar’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the Myanmar military led by General Saw Maung retook power in a coup d’etat.

The general announced on state-run television and radio that the military had assumed power to protect the interests of the people, “in order to bring a timely halt to deteriorating conditions on all sides all over the country.” Military marching songs were also aired throughout the day.

Gen. Saw Maung abolished the administration of the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) and replaced it with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The BSPP had been established by the general’s mentor, the military dictator U Ne Win who had ordered brutal crackdowns on protestors during the uprising.

The SLORC government, led by Gen. Saw Maung, held multi-party elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when the National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide victory.

Three years after Gen. Saw Maung’s coup, Senior General Than Shwe took power and ruled the country for 19 years. During this time, the military regime drafted the 2008 Constitution which has allowed the military to maintain its grip on power even after the country’s transition to democracy.

The country held a general election in 2010 and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), widely regarded as a political proxy for the military, won while the NLD boycotted the vote. When a second general election was held in 2015, the NLD came to power, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Four years into its administration however, the NLD government is still finding it difficult to negotiate with the military to amend the 2008 Constitution.