Recently, on the 1st of February, 2021 a video of a Burmese school teacher, doing her aerobics routine took the Internet by storm. The reason behind the popularity of the same was one can witness the military of Myanmar overthrowing the incumbent government by way of a coup, in the background. The State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other political leaders, was arrested in the middle of the night with the charge of illegal importation of walkie-talkies.[1] The next morning, telecom networks were suspended, along with slowed internet activity and television channels going off-air. The television channel of Myanmar’s military announced that the army had taken control over the nation for a period of one year. It is crucial to understand the reason behind such a coup and the consequences of the same.

Factors leading to the coup

Myanmar has been under military control for around 50 years in its 70-year-old history of Independence. There was an air of optimism after the elections of 2015 that the country could finally take a step ahead in the direction of democratic and economic development. However, this coup proved to be detrimental to the dreams of democracy. This was a regressive measure adopted by the military of the nation and has been condemned by various nations including India.[2] One week before the coup, in a conference, the prospect of a coup was raised by the spokesman of the military.[3] As a consequence of the coup, a civil disobedience movement has stirred up in Myanmar. Doctors and other civil servants have refused to work under military rule. Citizens of the country protested by banging utensils and shouting slogans as an act of defiance against the military. The military has alleged election fraud. It claimed that the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party won the elections of 2015 due to election fraud.[4] The evidence they provided for the aforementioned allegations were spotted irregularities in the voter’s list. These allegations were rejected by the Election Commission of Myanmar.[5] However, the military justified its act of overthrowing the government as the failure of the election commission to address these allegations. To understand the real reason behind the coup, it is necessary to delve into the history of Myanmar.

History of Myanmar

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was under British rule. During World War II, it was occupied by Japan. A local army fought against Japan with the help of the allied countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom and regained control over Myanmar. The leader of the local army went on to become the Father of the Nation and crafted a historic agreement in 1947. Myanmar consists of 130 ethnicities with the majority belonging to the Bamar ethnicity. The Father of the Nation, Aung San signed the Panglong Agreement, with the other ethnicities to build a united nation. He put forth the condition of the adoption of a federal system to allow those belonging to the non-Bamar ethnicity to govern their own internal areas. However, he was assassinated before the country could receive formal independence. Despite being a democracy until 1962, this promise of federalism was never delivered by the Bamar-dominated government. This led to the rise of ethnic insurgencies against Bamars. Many ethnic groups formed armies to fight against the central Bamar-dominated army. These insurgencies continue to date. The first military coup in Myanmar took place in 1962. The reason behind it was that the nation was under threat due to insurgencies, which necessitated complete control.[6] This military rule lasted for 50 years under the regime of three dictators. After the 1962 coup, the military took control of all private properties, expelled the foreigners, and made Myanmar an isolated country. The country’s exchanges with other nations were cut off. While the economies of the neighboring states were flourishing, Myanmar’s economy was suffering. In 1988, Myanmar witnessed its largest pro-democracy protest. Many students revolted against military rule. These protests are known as the 8888 Protests since they took place on the 8th of August, 1988. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the father of the nation led the protests. This led to the creation of her party which is the National League for Democracy. Due to the consequences of the 1988 protests, the military accepted free and fair elections. The National League for Democracy emerged victorious in the elections of 1990. However, it was not accepted by the military.[7] Aung San Suu Kyi was majorly under house arrest for the next twenty years. During the period, she got inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and initiated a non-violent struggle, because of which she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010, the military decided to hold elections, following the provisions of the newly enacted Constitution of Myanmar, which was framed by the military. According to the Constitution of Myanmar, both the police and army fell under the command of the commander-in-chief. It also provided for a 25% reservation in the Parliament for the military. Any constitutional change required the majority of 75%. Hence, no constitutional change could take place without the support of the military. Furthermore, those citizens who have ever been married to a foreigner were barred from contesting the elections. Due to this, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was married to a British man was not able to contest and thus, the party affiliated to the military, Union Solidarity and Developmental Party emerged victoriously. Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections of 2015, which was a free and fair election, and formed her own government. The economy was opened up and foreign companies were granted permission to set up their bases in Myanmar. This prosperity was short-lived since the country was plagued with the bones of Rohingya Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi defended the military in the International Court of Justice despite clear evidence proving otherwise.[8] This led to the major disappointment of not only the international community but also the ethnic communities, which hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi would deliver the promise made by her father. Myanmar slowly went back to its authoritarian stage under her regime. This scenario of the country provided the military with a perfect opportunity to carry on the coup after Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections of 2019, despite the unpopularity.

Reasons behind the coup

One of the foremost reasons is that after the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in the 2019 elections, the military feared the growing popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi among the Bamars. This popularity could lead to a potential revolt by the Bamars against the military. Another reason could be the proposed reforms by the National League for Democracy in the nation’s constitution. The suggested reforms can possibly jeopardize the power the military wields in the country. Another reason is China. The ethnic insurgencies occurring in Myanmar against the military are confined to the northern region. The military was under the impression that these insurgencies were supported by China.[9] There also existed a flourishing diplomatic bond between Aung San Suu Kyi and China. Lastly, another reason could have been the personal interests of the Army Chief. Min Aung Hlaing is soon approaching his retirement date. Many experts believe that he fears persecution due to his role in the Rohingya genocide after retirement. The coup could have been conducted in order to prevent this from happening and maintain the stronghold of the military in Myanmar.


Since time immemorial, Myanmar has been under an authoritarian regime, which has only proved to be detrimental to the interests of the country. The brief period of democracy led to its betterment, not only nationally but also internationally. Strict sanctions need to be imposed on the military of Myanmar in order to restore peace and harmony in the nation.


[1] Matthew Tostevin, Myanmar police file charges against Aung San Suu Kyi after coup (2021) 

[2] India expressed deep concern on Myanmar Coup, (2021) 

[3] Myanmar Army raises prospect of coup over voter fraud claims (2021) 

[4] Jack Goodman, Myanmar Coup: Does the Army have evidence of voter fraud? (2021) 

[5] Myanmar Election Commission rejects military’s fraud claims (2021)

[6] Konsam Shakila Devi, Myanmar under the Military Rule 1962- 1988 (2014) 

[7] TONKIN, DEREK. “The 1990 Elections in Myanmar: Broken Promises or a Failure of Communication?” Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 29, no. 1, 2007, pp. 33–54. JSTOR, Accessed 16 Feb. 2021

[8] Hannah Ellis- Petersen, From peace icon to pariah: Aung San Suu Kyi’s fall from grace (2018) 

[9] Shishir Gupta, Myanmar calls out China for arming terror groups (2020)

Simran Bherwani

National Law University, Jodhpur

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