The Day Democracy Died in Myanmar
By The Irrawaddy 2 March 2019
On this day in 1962, the Myanmar military seized power after abolishing the elected government of U Nu, who had been voted in two years earlier. In a radio announcement on March 2, coup leader General Ne Win cited deteriorating conditions in the country, including ethnic minorities’ call for federalism, as justification for his actions. The military had earlier staged a coup in 1958 at the request of the then government and handed power back to the civilian administration in 1960. This time the coup-installed regime would last for 26 years, until it was toppled by a nationwide popular uprising in 1988.
Under Ne Win’s military dictatorship, Myanmar went from being one of Southeast Asian’s most developed and democratic nations to ranking among the world’s least developed countries. The regime gained notoriety for, among other things, its bloody dynamiting of the Student Union building on the Rangoon University Campus, deadly crackdowns on a series of worker and student strikes, demonetization, and appointing military personnel to government departments.
Ne Win’s regime made the takeover official by announcing March 2 as a gazetted holiday under a different title. Since 1965, the day has been known as “Peasants Day”, named after the huge socialist-style peasant meetings held across the country.