Military Coup in Myanmar: Tatmadaw Claims Constitutional Emergency, Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD Party Under House Arrest

By Kalina Valqurey | February 2, 2021
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Although military leaders in Burma (Myanmar) asserted for a second time Sunday that no coup was in progress, according to a spokesman for the opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), a coup seems to be exactly what took place on Monday when Associated Press (AP) reported that internet and phone access to the capital, Naypyitaw, had been cut, and that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party could not be reached. 

Myanmar Visual Television and Myanmar Voice Radio posted to Facebook around 6:30 a.m. that their programs were not available to broadcast regularly. News of the overthrow did not reach other areas of Burma until around lunchtime, with people making withdrawals from banks and some taking leave of their workplaces. In the former capital of Yangon, mobile networks were down although broadband was operable. Municipal government workers were turned away from their workplace; markets stayed open and some people shopped for emergency food. The Skynet satellite provider stopped providing BBC or CNN and the national broadcaster MRTV was not available.

According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said that Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained in pre-dawn arrests and AP stated that Aund Sang Suu Kyi is believed to currently be under house arrest. Frontier Myanmar reports the chief ministers of the country’s states and regions have also been arrested.

Later in the day on Monday, the Tatmadaw (military) confirmed via their television station that they had declared a state of emergency lasting for a period of one year. They did not call the situation a ‘coup’ and maintained that their actions were lawful, resulting from a constitutional clause allowing for a state of emergency. 

In the days leading up to the arrests, citizens had noted a heightened presence of military vehicles in major cities.

According to Frontier Myanmar, a statement broadcast just after 8 a.m. on military-controlled media cited Constitutional Article 417, permitting a military takeover during emergencies that threaten Myanmar’s sovereignty or that threaten to “disintegrate the Union.” The statement said that Vice President U Myint Swe would be the interim president and further explained that “huge” instances of fraud alleged in the November 8 election had endangered the “sovereignty of the people”.

Military sources had been repeatedly alleging massive fraud since the General Election on Nov. 8, and this, together with unrest between opposing parties, was cited as reasons for the emergency action. Momentum for effective pandemic prevention was also listed as a benefit of the coup in a statement by the Tatmadaw. According to the BBC, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will now be principally in charge of Burma during the state of emergency. Frontier Myanmar said that Swe, who was already a military appointee, had ceded his power to Hlaing. 

The first session of Parliament since last year’s contested election was to be Monday. However, comments last week by the military — related to taking issue with the election as fraudulent — were widely believed to have threatened a coup. In the days leading up to the arrests, citizens had noted a heightened presence of military vehicles in major cities. Burmese media and the NLD party maintained that with no evidence of election fraud, the people had fairly and overwhelmingly heightened the power of Suu Kyi’s party with their vote, giving her party 396 seats in parliament and only 33 for the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Aung San Suu Kyi is currently a member of the globalist bloc World Economic Forum, with speeches and addresses at the bloc’s Davos summits prevalent on Youtube spanning back at least 10 years. 

Many consider Suu Kyi to be the country’s de facto leader, even more so than the President, Win Myint, who was also detained, according to NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt. Nyunt told Reuters by phone Monday that he himself also expected to be detained: “With the situation we see happening now, we have to assume that the military is staging a coup.” Nyunt also said: “I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law.” 

Thai pro-democracy protesters throw a barricade at riot police in Bangkok on February 1, 2021, close to where Myanmar migrants were demonstrating after Myanmar’s military detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in a coup.
Thai pro-democracy protesters throw a barricade at riot police in Bangkok on February 1, 2021, close to where Myanmar migrants were demonstrating after Myanmar’s military detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in a coup. (Image: by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP via Getty Images)

The military in Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, said that there was, according to AP, “massive voting fraud” in the general election in early November. As reported by Frontier Myanmar, the military claimed that there were 10 million suspect votes according to their investigation and they asked that the full electoral roll be released by the Union Election Commission for scrutiny. AP claims that there was no evidence of fraud and that the state Union Election Commission rejected these allegations last week.

The Tatmadaw last Tuesday ramped up political tension when a spokesman at its weekly news conference, responding to a reporter’s question, refused to speak against the possibility of a coup. Local and worldwide media reported that Sr. Gen. Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief, told senior officers in a speech Wednesday that the constitution could be suspended if the laws were not being honored properly. However, according to SCMP, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun later said the military would “follow the laws in accordance with the constitution.” 

The Burmese generals also claimed that they were acting according to law and they said that new elections would be held at the end of the year. Burma has only had democracy since 2008, with society opening up in 2011, and for some time AUNG SAN Suu Kyi and Hlaing appeared to have been working in tandem for the interests of their country.

According to a statement released by the Tatmadaw, Hlaing was intentionally misquoted and issued what they said was a more complete statement as a correction, which, according to them, was as follows: “As the Tatmadaw is an armed organization, it needs to abide by the Constitution. So, we all need to follow all the existing laws, not beyond the 2008 Constitution. The Constitution is the mother law for all laws. So, I’d like to note we all need to abide by the Constitution. If one does not follow the law, such law must be revoked.” 

The statement further clarified that the general’s words had been intended to clarify “on [the] nature of the Constitution for the senior officer trainees.” It is worth noting that what is referred to by “2008 Constitution” is the Burmese Constitution framed in 2008 that forms a multiparty democratic system and overrides prior socialist constitutions. 

However, the BBC reported that Hlaing iterated what many media had written, which was that he warned that “the constitution shall be abolished, if not followed” and further clarified that when he spoke he cited the example of previous military coups in 1962 and 1988. Nevertheless, many people had taken the Tatmadaw’s clarification statement to be a promise that there would be no seizure of power. Frontier Myanmar said that sources in the capital Naypyitaw informed the paper that things fell apart after the dialogue on Sunday between senior NLD and USDP officials had failed to find common ground, and that the NLD government had refused the USDP’s demands to delay opening parliament until allegations of election fraud had been addressed.

Activists hold a portrait of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest outside the United Nations University building in Tokyo on February 1, 2021, after Myanmar’s military seized power in a bloodless coup.
Activists hold a portrait of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest outside the United Nations University building in Tokyo on February 1, 2021, after Myanmar’s military seized power in a bloodless coup. (Image: by PHILIP FONG / AFP via Getty Images)

In the days leading up to the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, the military said that organizations, the media, and some foreign embassies had taken words out of context and asked observers “not to make unwarranted assumptions about the situation.” At present, with the arrests made and a state of emergency declared, the military continues to deny that a coup is in progress. 

The Burmese generals also claimed that they were acting according to law and they said that new elections would be held at the end of the year. Burma has only had democracy since 2008, with society opening up in 2011, and for some time Aung San Suu Kyi and Hlaing appeared to have been working in tandem for the interests of their country.

For fallout related to her defense of Burmese military actions before the United Nations’ highest court, in which Aung San Suu Kyi explained that the military had been responding to attacks from “militants” and “terrorists,” Suu Kyi was stripped of multiple international humanitarian awards. Many questioned how could the Nobel Laureate defend the military that had once imprisoned her, with some positing it was because the military still retained control of Burma. The BBC suggested that she was acting out of loyalty to her nation and that she too needed to win the people’s votes. This might suggest that, within Burma, the military was not unpopular. 

Sr. Gen. Hlaing was a law student before he was a general and writer. Hla Oo, who claims to have known the general during childhood, described him as “a battle-hardened warrior” who was yet still a “serious scholar and gentleman.” Notably, Hlaing did not enter senior leadership in the military until Burma’s transition to democracy in 2011 and he has only held power under the democratic constitution of 2008. Photos of the general working cordially with Suu Kyi are not uncommon.

Aung San Suu Kyi (C) and the Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (R) arrive for the handover ceremony at the presidential palace in Naypyidaw on March 30, 2016. A close aide to Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as Myanmar’s president on March 30, a role that will see him act as a proxy for the pro-democracy figurehead and carry the hopes of a nation emerging from military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi (C) and the Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (R) arrive for the handover ceremony at the presidential palace in Naypyidaw on March 30, 2016. A close aide to Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as Myanmar’s president on March 30, a role that will see him act as a proxy for the pro-democracy figurehead and carry the hopes of a nation emerging from military rule. (Image: YE AUNG THU / AFP via Getty Images)

One might hope that a law student and “serious scholar and gentleman” who is not part of the socialist old guard in Burma would keep his word regarding a time of emergency followed by fair elections. In light of worldwide questioning into broader issues of election fraud, the question can be asked: might the Elections Council have worked with the Tatmadaw by simply providing the voter rolls to restore confidence in the elections, and if so, why didn’t they? 

However, Law Professor Melissa Crouch, author of the book The Constitution of Myanmar, does not have the same curiosity and opines: This is a manufactured emergency. The military has provided no evidence of voter fraud.” 

The Tatmadaw states two complaints related to the lack of diligence put into the discovery of evidence related to election fraud despite requests. It appears that an investigation had been carried out by the military that was never verified by the Union Election Commission despite the military’s request for them to do so.

Professor Crouch also speaks from her knowledge of the Burmese constitution to add that the invoked “Section 417” “is supposed to be at the initiative of the President in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council.” In another writing, she says: “The military claims there was a meeting of the Council, but this is impossible.” 

Although this claim has not yet been verified, this is most likely due to a shortage of time. But the Tatmadaw has countered: “The President refused the submission for two times to hold the National Defence and Security Council Meeting.” Crouch does add that in emergencies the constitution allows under Section 417: “All power is transferred to the Commander-in-Chief. The Commander-in-Chief may suspend rights as he sees fit. The constitutional emergency lasts for one year.” The top priority of the state of emergency appears to be to resolve the alleged voter fraud, according to the BBC.

The White House has not taken a position asking for any evidence related to the Burmese election either. According to USA Today, Biden issued a statement that the military’s actions were a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and rule of law.” He warned that it would “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.” U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken called on the military to release government and civil society leaders and expressed “grave concern and alarm.”

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