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Friday, July 23, 2021

Myanmar military ignores how much their country has changed

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

After the coup, the military junta has its hands tied when it comes to dealing with the wave of protests and strikes by protesters demanding the return of democracy

In defiance of the threat issued by the generals in power that they would use lethal force to disperse them, anti-coup protesters once again filled the streets of Myanmar on Monday to demand a return to democracy. 

The country’s political crisis continues to evolve since the military carried out a coup three weeks ago: a national general strike has paralyzed the economy, hundreds of protesters have been arrested and at least four have died because of the shooting by the armed forces. 

But, to the surprise of many observers, the junta has yet to take measures as radical as those used against the rebellious students in 1988 or against the Buddhist monks’ revolution in 2007.

It is the chicken-and-egg scenario: as the Army shows greater restraint (unprecedented), its opponents feel more emboldened to attend the protests. Why is this phenomenon occurring, and what does it mean? Part of the answer has to do with how Myanmar itself has changed over the past decade.

The citizens of the country have been able to taste democracy. Unlike previous crises, most protesters – especially young people – are not calling for an abrupt end to a decades-old military regime, but for Myanmar’s return to the status quo prior to the January 31 coup.

The country has one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia, with an average age of 28.2 years. Five million people voted for the first time in the November elections last year. For young people, democracy is not something to aspire to, but the only possible system, the only one they have ever known.

Like their counterparts in Thailand, who have long denounced the country’s decaying military-royal grip on power, Myanmar’s youth are unwilling to wait for the junta to deliver on its promise to hold new elections within a year. 

They are furious at the generals who have taken away their basic freedoms, and they are not as afraid of the junta thugs as their parents because most have only vague memories of the iron fist of the military government.

The junta, for its part, cannot act as it did in 1988 or 2007. When the military crushed the protests, they did so under the cover of a general informational blackout. That’s impossible in 2021 because of the internet, to which pre-democratic Myanmar was barely connected.

Militia generals have so far imposed a nightly ‘internet curfew’ and blocked access to social media. However, the protesters, familiar with the technology, have been able to circumvent these restrictions, allowing them to continue mobilizing in the streets and spreading their actions. It is likely that if there were a brutal crackdown on the protests, it would be broadcast live on Facebook, which would be a nightmare for the junta.

The military’s decision to block this social network is probably the most unpopular the junta has taken since it seized power in a country where, for approximately 50% of the population, Facebook is equivalent to the Internet itself, and where Social network is the preferred form of communication. The company, for its part, has responded by disassociating itself from the generals, who risk further fueling public discontent if the veto is prolonged.

The economy loves freedom. When Myanmar began embracing democracy in the 2010s, it also opened the economy to foreign investment and, more importantly, the private sector. A nationwide general strike would have been unheard of just ten years ago, when most companies were directly or indirectly controlled by the state.

Now, the state cannot force private-sector employees to go to work, and they are not at risk of being fired for attending an anti-government demonstration. If the protests continue, the workers’ strike could cause severe damage to an economy that was already going through difficult times before the coup due to COVID-19.

Furthermore, a prolonged financial disruption will sooner or later hit the board where it hurts the most: to your pocket. In 2011, the military used an opaque privatization law to acquire hundreds of thousands of formerly state-owned companies in key sectors such as beer, tobacco, mining, tourism, real estate, and telecommunications. If the economy continues to suffer, the generals will endanger their own business empire.

What comes next? It remains to be seen whether the post-coup political crisis in Myanmar will be resolved peacefully or not, but it is clear that the generals have played their cards without being aware of the consequences. The country has changed, and they have missed it.

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