The world has a coup d'etat on its hands. The military in Myanmar ousted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday, detaining her and other civilian leaders. Don't expect the situation to change anytime soon: The army declared a state of emergency for one year and put Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in charge, reports Reuters. The US and the UN have condemned the move and are considering next steps, including sanctions. Coverage:
- A letter: Suu Kyi wrote a letter to supporters in advance of her detention in which she urged them to "protest against the coup" and warned of a return to military dictatorship, reports the BBC. It's not clear where she's being held. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won more than 70% of the vote in November, but the army declared the results fraudulent. "Famously stubborn, she is unlikely to co-operate with a gun held to her head," writes the BBC's Jonathan Head.
- For Biden: This is the "first foreign crisis" for President Biden, per Politico. One fear is sending Myanmar back under the influence of China. "This is a big diplomatic test for the Biden administration in Asia," Ben Bland of the Lowy Institute in Australia tells the Wall Street Journal. "People will be watching closely how it balances its calls for a more values-based foreign policy against its plans to counter Chinese influence in the region."
- Why now: The new parliament was supposed to meet for the first time on Monday, and the military says the government's failure to investigate allegations of voter fraud justified its pre-emptive move under the nation's constitution. Still, "some experts expressed puzzlement that the military would move to upset the status quo—in which the generals continue to hold tremendous power despite progress toward democracy in recent years," per the AP. One theory is that Gen. Hlaing was about to be forced into military retirement, and this allows him to extend his power.
- The military's allegations. The military claims there were discrepancies including duplicated names on voting lists, per Reuters. The military hasn't said, however, whether the alleged violations could have changed the outcome, and election observers have said there were no major irregularities in the Nov. 8 vote.
- Suu Kyi's history: She came to power in 2016 after the nation's first democratic election in decades, notes the New York Times. Prior to that, she lived under house arrest for more than 15 years and became an international icon. However, her recent defense of the military's ruthless crackdown on Rohingya refugees sullied her reputation. Technically, the 75-year-old served as "state counsellor," not president, but NPR notes she has been Myanmar's de facto leader since 2016.
- Now what: Hard to say. There’s "almost a surreal sense, are we really going back to something which we thought we had left behind?" a UN official tells the Journal, referring to the nation's long military rule before its shift to democracy. The situation is "extremely alarming," adds an Amnesty International official. "This is an ominous moment for people in Myanmar, and threatens a severe worsening of military repression and impunity."
- China: Its public stance on all this is of the milquetoast variety. "China is Myanmar's friendly neighbor," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. "We hope all sides in Myanmar can properly manage their differences under the constitution and legal framework to uphold political and social stability."
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