Source: The Guardian

India must support restoration of Democracy in Myanmar as China has massive stake in army coup 

Myanmar recently found its democratically elected leaders behind bars, as its army once again seized power in a calculated coup. China has so far not offered any harsh criticism on these developments. India for its part has enjoyed warm bilateral relations with Myanmar and needs to cautiously support the restoration of democracy writes BARUN DAS GUPTA.

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MYANMAR’S decade-old dalliance with democracy has ended. The army has once again seized power declaring a year long national emergency and remains subject to further extensions.

Earlier, it had ruled for fifty years till 2011, when the first elections were held, which were neither free nor fair.  The National League for Democracy (NLD) emerged victorious, with its leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues still behind bars. It once again came to power in the third general elections held in November last year.

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The last ten years had seen an uneasy partnership between the elected government and the army, with the long and ominous shadow of the army always looming behind the civil government.

In defense of its seizure of power, the army alleged that malpractices were adopted in the elections. It alleged that polls had been rigged three months after the declaration of results, however, it has not presented any evidence to support the claim.

For all practical purposes, it can be understood as an “army-controlled democracy.” 

The army ensured that in the new democratic set-up it always had a powerful stronghold. The army-drafted Constitution reserved 25 percent seats in the Parliament for its personnel. It also included a provision that permanently debarred anyone who has a foreign spouse from contesting for presidentship. Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris, was British. This provision of the Constitution was meant specifically to keep Suu Kyi from contesting for the post of head of State.

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Amendments were almost impossible as a two-thirds majority in the house was required for any constitutional amendment. With the army controlling 25 percent seats, even one vote against the amendment would make it impossible to bring any change in the Constitution.

For all practical purposes, it can be understood as an “army-controlled democracy.”

Aung San Suu Kyi with Myanmar’s military commander, senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in 2016. Source: LA Times

An Undermined Election

Despite this, it was a relief for the people of Myanmar who had groaned under the iron heels of the army for half a century. Suu Kyi’s anti-Rohingya stand was also believed to have been at the behest of the army.

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The armed forces were accused of abetting the genocide of the Rohingyas. It was the army who always wielded the whip hand in the country.

The elected government was accused of committing “unacceptable mistakes.” The army chief told a local news agency just days before the elections, that in the situation prevailing in the country, there was a need to be “cautious” about the poll results.

There was widespread speculation before the November elections that the army was not going to accept the result. Just days before the polls, the army chief, Min Aung Hlaing had hinted that the army might not accept the verdict of the people. The elected government was accused of committing “unacceptable mistakes.” The army chief told a local news agency just days before the elections, that in the situation prevailing in the country, there was a need to be “cautious” about the poll results.

As it turned out, the NLD scored a landslide victory, polling 80 percent of the total votes and increasing its support base substantially from the 2015 elections. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the political wing of the army, refused to accept the results. They claimed that its investigation had found 10.5 million “suspect” votes. The stage was set for another coup d’etat.

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On Monday, February 2, the army took over and Suu Kyi along with other leaders of the NLD was “detained” – a euphemism for arrest.

The Chinese Stand

While the whole world including India condemned the coup and American president Joe Biden even threatened to impose sanctions on Myanmar if democracy was not immediately restored.

Source: Financial Express

China’s was a tongue in cheek reaction, it neither condemned the seizure of power by the army nor did it express any concern about the murder of democracy in the country. It wished that the civil and military authorities would “take the path of reconciliation.” How it was possible when the NLD’s elected leaders were under detention, Beijing did not explain. The Chinese response has caused speculation that Beijing was behind the Burmese army and the brass hats embarked on this misadventure only after being assured of Chinese support.

The importance of Myanmar for Beijing can be easily understood when it is borne in mind that out of its total foreign debt of $10 billion, China alone accounts for $4 billion. India in comparison stands at $1.4 billion. 

Myanmar has become extremely important for India strategically after the latest Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh. Further, its military’s “probing” operations from Naku La in Sikkim to Upper Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh have added to the existing tensions. The possibility of tribal militancy resurfacing in north-east India with the encouragement and support of the Chinese and the rebels taking shelter in neighbouring Myanmar cannot be ruled out.

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Under the NLD Government, Myanmar denied any shelter to the Indian rebels who have been wiped out. However, the latest change in its political climate has created new doubts and anxieties for India.

Suu Kyi is a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. She knows India well and has nothing but friendship and goodwill for the country. It seems possible that Beijing did not like warm bilateral relations between both nations. It was in China’s interest to remove her from power. The fact that a top Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi, met Myanmar’s army chief Aung Hlaing shortly before the coup might not have been entirely coincidental.

The importance of Myanmar for Beijing can be easily understood when it is borne in mind that out of its total foreign debt of $10 billion, China alone accounts for $4 billion. India in comparison stands at $1.4 billion.

New Delhi will need to closely monitor the developments in Myanmar and provide all possible help within its power to the country’s democratic forces. (IPA Service)

(Barun Das Gupta is a senior journalist. The views are personal)

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