Myanmar’s Coup d’état and the Struggle for Federal Democracy and Inclusive Government
1. The Scholarly Literature: Nonviolent Civil Resistance
2. The Military Coup d’état of 1 February 2021, and Its Immediate Consequences
3. International Reactions to Myanmar’s Military Coup
4. Civilians as Agents of Change: Tactics of Popular Resistance
5. The Military Response
6. Myanmar’s Generation Z: “We Want Democracy! Reject Military Coup! Justice for Myanmar!”
We are making our voices heard through our uprising. We hold hands firmly and are working together to end the dictatorship and fulfil our own destiny.We create a battle symphony with the sound of pots and pans!We raise our three-fingered salute!We march!We stage creative uprisings through various forms of collaborative performance!We help each other and show global solidarity!We support the Civil Disobedience Movement!Driven by our strong determination, we remain resilient against the deadly attacks.
Whether in Syria, Hong Kong, Thailand, or the United States, online interactions are interwoven with real-world protest, resistance, and violence. Following the military coup of February 2021, protesters organised online and used social media to spread and amplify their voices. The military responded with network shutdowns, control over telecoms, online surveillance, and stop and search of mobile phones. Youth in Myanmar faced an existential crisis. The country’s brief experiment with democracy and an open media environment had seen social media emerge as a place of outspoken discussion and free expression—including the challenging rise of online hate speech and social punishment. Now, that online environment is linked to many cases of arrest, torture, and even death.
7. Gender Diversity: Women and Girls on the Frontline
8. Ethnic Nationalities: From ‘Other’ to Allies?
9. Weakening the Enemy from Within: Defections and Desertions
10. Civil Society and Democratisation
11. Religious and Moral Leadership
For the Buddhist nationalists who backed the army and its crackdown on Muslims, the coup may seem like an opportunity. Westerners rarely associate Buddhism with extremism or violence, but Buddhist movements in Asia have often raised few qualms about the use of force. Buddhist authorities have, at times, justified violence against the faith’s enemies and supported authoritarian regimes. Myanmar is no exception. Since at least the end of British rule, the Buddhist monastic community (or sangha) has played an instrumental role in the political landscape of Myanmar.
I share deep fellowship with all of you in this moment as you grapple with the unexpected, shocking events that are unfolding in our country. I appeal to each one of you, stay calm, never fall victim to violence. We have shed enough blood. Let not any more blood be shed in this land. Even at this most challenging moment, I believe that peace is the only way, peace is possible. There are always nonviolent ways for expressing our protests. The unfolding events are the result of a sad lack of dialogue and communication and disputing of diverse views. Let us not continue hatred at this moment when we struggle for dignity and truth. Let all community leaders and religious leaders pray and animate communities for a peaceful response to these events. Pray for all, pray for everything, avoiding occasions of provocation.
…history has painfully shown that abrupt conclusions and judgements ultimately do not benefit our people. Sanctions and condemnations brought few results, rather they closed doors and shut out dialogue. These hard measures have proved a great blessing to those super powers that eye our resources. We beg you do not force concerned people into bartering our sovereignty. The international community needs to deal with the reality, understanding well Myanmar’s history and political economy. Sanctions risk collapsing the economy, throwing millions into poverty. Engaging the actors in reconciliation is the only path.
12. The CRPH and NUG: ‘Taking Back the People’s Power’
To bring an end to the conflicts and problematic root causes in the Union, to ensure all ethnic nationalities—population can participate and collaborate and to build a prosperous Federal Democracy Union where all citizens can live peacefully, share the common destiny and live harmoniously together; a Federal Democracy Union where democracy is exercised and equal rights and self-determination are guaranteed, all ethnic nationalities of the Union, all citizens enjoy mutual recognition and respect, mutual friendship and support and solidarity based on freedom, equality and justice, we intend to carry out the following activities:
- Eradication of dictatorship;
- Ultimate Abolishment of 2008 Constitution;
- Building Federal Democracy Union; and
- Emergence of Public Government.
13. Myanmar’s National Unity Consultative Council: A Vision of Myanmar’s Federal Future
14. The NUG’s Vision of a Just and Inclusive Society
- The first is military action,
I understand why many Gen Z have decided to leave for the border like me and want to take some kind of military action. There are two ways, the conventional military army and also the guerrilla strategies. Young people think that we are left defenseless on the streets during the military crackdowns, and many are killed because they don’t have weapons to defend themselves. So they really want to fight back. They need weapons. I understand how they feel.
- The second strategy is non-cooperation,
… the civil disobedience movement (CDM), mainly by the staff, thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, and government servants, are still taking part in CDM. They are not going to work under the military government. There are huge numbers refusing to go even though the military is desperately saying everything is running well. We know that they cannot manage the situation while the massive CDM movement stays strong. This is another strategy. And this also is effective. You can see the military every day announces the list of people that got fired because they are part of the CDM. They threaten people who join the CDM. So, these are two strategies.
- The third strategy involves diplomacy and the leveraging of international influence,
Third, the NUG is trying to work on the diplomatic strategy, using all kinds of international cooperation, trying to get the legitimate vote as the legitimate government. They are looking for international or bilateral cooperation for the NUG movement. This is also another strategy. That is why we are calling for intervention. We are asking ASEAN, EU, or the US government to take action on the military’s ‘three-cuts’ policies.
- U Aung Myo Min emphasises the NUG’s commitment to peace with justice. His words are worth quoting at length:
The motto of my ministry is equality, peace, and justice. Those are the basic principles of human rights. Equality means nobody is subject to discrimination. We will stay committed to Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 1 deals with equality and Article 2 is related to non-discrimination. These are our principles… We have what we could call a “three H” approach. One is Head, putting in the international standards, teaching what the UDHR, CEDAW, CRC, and CRPD is. The second one is Heart, so people can practice the three values of non-discrimination, equality, and respect for diversity. So people can feel it and they can also think about what social norms and taboos are not in line with everyday life… And finally, putting a Human Rights curriculum in the new system, from the primary level to high school. A faculty of Human Rights, or maybe, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) Myanmar! This is my passion. This is my dream. This was my dream as an activist before. Now that I’m the dreammaker, maybe, to put this into our government’s policy. This military code of conduct will be finished very soon, [and will] respect the dignity and the rights of the people based on international humanitarian law and also the law of armed conflict. Some are ready to go, but some are not ok because of a long history of mistrust between Bamar and other ethnic people. We are solving the problem, showing that the federal union and federal democratic constitution is not only for the Bamar, but for all the peoples of Burma, of Myanmar!
15. Reflections: From Dictatorship to Democracy?
16. Conclusions: Myanmar’s Quest for a Federal and Democratic Future
The country will have to suffer for several decades to come if we don’t win this fight. So we need to win this fight once and for all… We can form a new country from here. The people of Myanmar will go down in history for being a part of the formation of a new nation. This is not our revolution. This is the revolution of the people and the Generation Z kids. Please continue to fight and we will provide whatever support you need. We will try to lead you out of this mess as soon as possible.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|Nonviolent Goals and Strategies||Implementation and Impact|
|Goal(s) of the resistance movement|
|Methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion. Strategies, symbols and sounds of solidarity|
|Popular support for the nonviolent resistance movement||The vast crowds demonstrated solidarity, strengthening the concept of democratisation, inclusion, and diversity. Important legacy for post-coup democratisation.|
|Social diversity and inclusion||The emphasis on inclusion across ethnicity, religion, gender, class and region increases the likelihood of post-conflict democratisation, the development of empathy, trusted relationships, openness, transparency, and a sense of shared endeavour to build a new culture, based on mutual respect, equality and justice.|
|Leadership and participation of Generation Z||Many protests were led and organised by young people using online platforms and in the early weeks employing street performances, humour, satire, comedy, drama, and the creative arts.|
|Leadership and participation of women and girls||Women led from the front line. Unions consisting mainly of women supported nonviolent resistance through strikes, sit downs, and non-cooperation. This increased the agency and empowerment of women and the likelihood of post-conflict democratisation.|
|Participation and visibility of ethnic nationalities in civil resistance||Nonviolent resistance led to the building of bridges. Minority ethnic groups were visible in demonstrations and protests, and their support led to ideas of federalism and justice. Ethnic nationalities are more fully represented within the CRPH, NUCC and NUG and are playing a determining role in negotiating a post-conflict federalism.|
|Nonviolent economic non-cooperation||Economic non-cooperation targeted the junta’s revenue and led to the boycott of its businesses and goods, the refusal to pay income tax and car tax and the avoidance of state transportation systems. Strikes by medical staff, teachers, university lecturers, engineers, farmers and other workers shut down state hospitals, schools, universities, and factories. Funding was funnelled to the CDM, IDPs and refugees.|
|Nonviolent political non-cooperation||Political non-cooperation involved the withdrawal of support from military government. The CDM boycotted government employment and positions, government departments, agencies, and other bodies, and withdrew from government educational and healthcare institutions.|
|Nonviolent interventions||Alternative political, social, and economic institutions trusted by the people were established.|
|Support of CSOs, NGOs, trade unions, women’s organisations, ethnic nationalities, etc.||Civil society proved remarkably strong, and the coalition building among CSOs and civil institutions positively impacted the post-coup process of democratisation.|
|Support of international, national, and regional religious leaders and organisations||Protesters gained the support of international religious leaders, diasporic communities and networks, and internal support from certain Buddhist monastics, and faith-based and multireligious organisations and religious leaders.|
|Decentralised leadership||Decentralised leadership added democratic agency but meant that nonviolent protest was compromised particularly in the regions where civil conflicts had already taken hold. Despite a history of military coups and punitive reaction to pro-democracy protest, strategic plans were not in place to forestall military takeover.|
|Support of the international community||Diplomatic efforts, targeting of sanctions, travel restrictions, targeting of aid away from military government, falling away of international investment, decline in tourism. Humanitarian aid in the face of deepening economic crisis. Withholding diplomatic recognition of junta. China was seen as undermining Myanmar’s transition to liberal democracy.|
In 2011, Sharp gave several hard-hitting explanations as to why resistance had previously failed to undermine military rule in Burma (Roughneen 2018). He observed that many of the opposition groups had armies or mini armies and thought that they would be weakened by going over to nonviolence. Moreover, all the various armed groups believed ‘foolishly’ that they could defeat the Army. Sharp characterised Aung San Suu Kyi as a moral leader rather than a strategist and recalled that, although From Dictatorship to Democracy was written for the Burmese, there were no Burmese groups who really took that analysis seriously or used it as a strategy for the liberation of Burma. ‘People got arrested and sent to prison for carrying it, in Burmese and other languages, they could organise very powerful and brave demonstrations in Rangoon and elsewhere, but they did not plan a grand struggle. If you don’t plan, if you don’t have a bigger strategy, you’re not going to win’.
The nomination said: ‘[The CDM] strives to create a united stand against the military’s divide and rule tactics and for federal democracy. If successful, this holds the potential of ending Myanmar’s long legacy of direct and indirect military rule and intrastate armed conflicts’. (The Irrawaddy 2021a).
The Tatmadaw, the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar, is administered by the Ministry of Defence and composed of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Auxiliary services include the Myanmar Police Force and the People’s Militia Units.
The military government has since deferred the holding of multiparty elections and the lifting of a state of emergency until August 2023.
The NLD won 87% of contested parliamentary seats while the USDP managed a mere 7%. The NLD gained 396 out of 476 seats in Parliament, the USDP gained 33. USDP senior members, some former military generals, lost their seats while USDP strongholds such as Meiktila and Mandalay, went over to the NLD.
The military alleged that more than eight million votes had been fraudulently cast. The election process was not perfect. For example, the NLD government refused to allow voting in some places, citing fears of violence and ethnic unrest. Precedents for this existed in the 2010 and 2015 elections, but this time, the no-vote zones in the states of Bago, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan were significantly larger. In July 2021, the UEC officially annulled the results of the 2020 general election and in August ordered political parties to prepare their financial records for upcoming audits.
Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in prison on 6 December 2021, but General Min Aung Hlaing only hours later commuted the sentence to two years. On 19 January 2022, she was given a four-year jail sentence by a military court, and she is also facing further charges, including allegations of election fraud, corruption and violating the Official Secrets Act. (Frontier Myanmar 2021a).
These included Ashin Ariya Vansa Bivansa, known as Myawaddy Sayadaw, and Shwe Nyar War Sayadaw. Myawaddy Sayadaw, a prominent Buddhist leader and vocal critic of both the military and the extremist Buddhist nationalist movement, was forced to disrobe and ordered to appear in court. (Myanmar NOW 2021a).
President Joe Biden released a statement on 2 February 2021 declaring that the military takeover and detention of civilian officials was ‘a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.’ He later approved a new executive order allowing the United States to ‘immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members.’ (The New York Times 2021a).
Ghoshal argues that Western democracies would achieve their goal not through condemnation or sanctions but through gentle nudging, persuasion and offering incentives. He claims that this ‘backdoor’ way is the only way in which the military would accept the need for the peaceful transfer of power back to Myanmar’s civilian elected representatives, and that the combination of external international pressure and internal protest might create an environment in which change is possible but that ‘international responses will matter only if stakeholders treat the coup leaders as partners in the progress towards democracy’. (Ghoshal 2021).
On 18 October 2021, Chairman Min Aung Hlaing declared that ‘To bring peace, stability, and true democracy … amnesty will be granted to those who have been convicted and those who have been prosecuted for their involvement in the riots due to the incitements of terrorist groups, CRPH and NUG so that they can do good deeds peacefully in the coming Thadingyut period’. The Global New Light of Myanmar. Available online: https://cdn.myanmarseo.com/file/client-cdn/2021/10/19_Oct_21_gnlm.pdf (accessed on 19 October 2021).
This BBC News video shows tens of thousands of people taking part in protests in Myanmar. Myanmar coup: Internet shutdown as crowds protest against military. BBC News. 6 February. Available online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-55960284 (accessed on 15 February 2021).
Protesters joining a general strike to close everything except essential service. Myanmar Now. February 22, 2021. Available online: https://www.myanmar-now.org/sites/myanmar-now.org/files/styles/mmnow_details_image/public/news-images/152342512_2030154113798983_8788363327201537854_o.jpg?itok=5a9sGZw1 (accessed on 22 February 2021).
Photograph of St. Francis Xavier nun, Sister Ann Roza Nu Thawng kneeling in front of police and soldiers during an anti-coup protest in Myitkyina, Myanmar, February 28. Sky News. Available online: https://e3.365dm.com/21/03/768x432/skynews-nun-myanmar-military_5294532.jpg?bypass-service-worker&20210305211845%20600w (accessed on 28 February 2021).
Aljazeera. In Pictures: Police escalate crackdown on protests in Myanmar. February 28. Available online: https://www.aljazeera.com/gallery/2021/2/28/inpictures-police-escalate-crackdown-on-protests-in-myanmar (accessed on 5 March 2021).
(ABC News 2021a). UN: 38 died on deadliest day yet for Myanmar coup opposition. March 4. Available online: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/myanmar-forces-violence-protesters-76220335 (accessed on 5 March 2021).
Telenor was under pressure from Myanmar’s government to shut down its internet coverage in various parts of the country, which resulted in the loss of Telenor business in Myanmar. In the aftermath of the coup, Telenor cited ‘increasing pressure to activate intercept equipment that is subject to Norwegian and European sanctions for use by the authorities in Myanmar’ for its decision to divest.
(BBC News 2021b). Video footage shows people banging pots and pans to warn their neighbours of approaching security forces.
Myanmar: Women join anti-coup protest dressed in ball gowns and wedding dresses. The Telegraph. February 10. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5LoiAZ5Z-w (accessed on 11 February 2021). See also: Women of Myanmar protest with women’s clothing and superstition. Arirang News. March 9. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDCSnbWjBfA (accessed on 11 March 2021).
Generation Z: Protesters hold signs denouncing the military during a demonstration against the coup in Yangon on 8 February 2021. Available online: https://mothership.sg/2021/02/myanmar-protesters-funny-signs/ (accessed on 10 February).
Protesters in Hong Kong, Myanmar, Unite Under Banner of ‘Milk Tea Alliance.’ Protesters hold signs supporting the “Milk Tea Alliance” of Asian anti-authoritarian activists during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, 28 February 2021.’ Available online: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/hongkong-milktea-03022021135951.html (accessed on 3 March 2021).
Teachers from Yangon University hold placards and flash the three-finger salute as they participate in the civil disobedience campaign against the military coup. 5 February. EPA-EFE/ Nyein Chan Naing. Available online: https://images.theconversation.com/files/383981/original/file-20210212-13-1o376ov.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=30&auto=format&w=600&h=400&fit=crop&dpr=2 (accessed on 7 February 2021).
Medical workers join nationwide strike after military coup, Naypyitaw, Myanmar—5 February 2021. Photograph: Maung Lonlan/EPA. https://www.shutterstock.com/editorial/image-editorial/medical-workers-join-nationwide-strike-after-military-coup-naypyitaw-myanamr-05-feb-2021-11747154h (accessed on 7 February 2021).
AAPP Daily Briefing as of November 29, 2021. 1297 people confirmed killed, a total of (7608) people are currently under detention, while (341) people have been sentenced in person; of them, 34 have been sentenced to death (incl. 2 children); 1954 are evading arrest warrants; 118 people have been sentenced in absentia; of them, 39 have been sentenced to death in absentia. In total, 73 have been sentenced to death, in person and absentia. https://aappb.org/?lang=en (accessed on 30 November 2021).
Aung San Suu Kyi organised the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, 31 August 2016, to which both ethnic minorities and the army were invited. During the conference, the EAOs called for a federal system that ‘guarantees justice, equality, self-administration and protection of racial, religious and political rights of ethnic minorities’.
A senior official from the influential Arakan National Party criticised the decision to accept the Rohingya and abolish the citizenship law as ‘rushed moves’. A spokesperson for the Arakan Liberation Party also criticised the move, accusing the NUG of ‘leaving out Rakhine leaders’ in its decision-making.
Brac de la Perrière reported that in contrast to the pacifist protests that were staged in the first few weeks after the coup, ‘In the cities, we’re now witnessing scenes of urban guerilla warfare. The only ones left [on the streets] are vindictive activists armed with make-shift weapons. And on the other side, security forces are responding with live fire’. She dismissed the creation of a Burmese federal army as more a utopian dream, than a reality. ‘And even if it was created, it would be much weaker—in terms of both numbers and resources—than the Tatmadaw’. (Cabot 2021).
Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI), an initiative of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), along with 16 organisations, urged The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) to undertake investigations into serious human rights violations, including use of excessive force and lethal weapons against peaceful protestors, and other violations of fundamental freedoms that are being committed by the Myanmar military and security forces. (FORUM-ASIA 2021).
Buddhist Monks March in Opposition to Military Coup in Myanmar. BDG. February 18. Available online: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/buddhist-monks-march-in-opposition-to-military-coup-in-myanmar/February 18 (accessed on 20 February 2021).
This article includes a video showing youths training in an area held by the Karen National Union (KNU).
NUG Press Release (14/2021) September 13, 2021. The Myanmar National Unity Government (NUG) announced the people’s defensive revolution against the military junta on September 7, 2021. Available online: https://gov.nugmyanmar.org/2021/09/13/press-release-14-2021/ (accessed on 14 September 2021).
(UN News 2021). Report by Tom Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif.
As a result of the coup, the UN estimates that 3 million people across Myanmar need humanitarian assistance, up from 1 million prior to the coup. Save the Children warns that ‘Across Myanmar, 206,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, including 76,000 children, and that many are sheltering in the jungle in torrential rains without adequate food’.
On the first anniversary of the coup, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, urged the international community to take strong, meaningful steps to cut the junta’s access to weapons, funds and legitimacy (A/HRC/49/76). https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/report-special-rapporteur-situation-human-rights-myanmar-thomas-h-andrews-ahrc4976 (accessed on 16 March 2022). The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, is also said to be actively engaging all stakeholders in support of a Myanmar-led process and continuing ‘to mobilize immediate action, including through strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the desperate needs of the people of Myanmar. Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General—on Myanmar. 30 January 2022. https://www.un.org/sg/en/node/261664 (accessed on 2 February 2022).
Interestingly, Oo (2021) urges the international community to bring all parties to the negotiable table to start constructive dialogues to achieve a peaceful resolution. to work with the UN and NGOs to provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar and finally, and most controversially, to engage with the Tatmadaw. Oo argues that as a long-term solution, the West should engage with the Tatmadaw to reform it as a professional army by discouraging their isolation and giving them access to a liberal education.
(Walker 2021). VOA interview with Dr Sasa who argues that the United Nations has an ‘obligation’ to recognize what the people want ahead of the 76th General Assembly in New York.
This was in response to the Myanmar junta releasing an announcement inviting ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) excluding those it has declared as ‘terrorist groups’ to attend preliminary peace talks on the Union Day. (The Irrawaddy 2022b).
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King, A.S. Myanmar’s Coup d’état and the Struggle for Federal Democracy and Inclusive Government. Religions 2022, 13, 594. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070594
King AS. Myanmar’s Coup d’état and the Struggle for Federal Democracy and Inclusive Government. Religions. 2022; 13(7):594. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070594Chicago/Turabian Style
King, Anna S. 2022. "Myanmar’s Coup d’état and the Struggle for Federal Democracy and Inclusive Government" Religions 13, no. 7: 594. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070594