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Coup by generals bares internal power struggle in Myanmar

Myanmar's powerful military generals have detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (IANS)

The simmering tension between the all-powerful military and the government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar has led to the deposition of Suu Kyi by the generals. Highly placed sources told India Narrative that the coup is mainly the result of an internal power struggle within Myanmar, and external powers are unlikely to have played a role in the military takeover. 

The Myanmar military, called Tatmadaw, declared a state of emergency for one year and detained government leaders including Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. The Tatmadaw has also arrested other ruling party members and cabinet ministers. The Irrawaddy newspaper says that the military had alleged irregularities in the November elections where Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won a landslide majority.

Since the elections in November 2020, the army had been releasing statements that the elections were marred by flawed voters lists. Simultaneously, opposition parties too had filed cases before the courts against the NLD.

Recently Myanmar had begun to open up to the world and was trying to get out of China's clutches. The embracing of democracy by Myanmar was welcomed across the world. Barack Obama became the first-ever US President to visit the country. Japan and India too improved their relations considerably with Myanmar, a country that occupies an important geo-political position in Asia–linking South Asia and South-East Asia.

India, which shares a long, nearly 1,600 km border with Myanmar, issued a statement saying: "We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely."

India had been cultivating both the power centres in the country – the democratically elected government as well as the military. India had last year given the Myanmar Navy the Sindhugosh submarine and also provided training to its personnel in managing it. A proud Myanmar Navy inducted the country's first submarine on its 73rd anniversary on 25 December 2020.

Numerous high-level visits had been exchanged between the leaders of both countries over the past few years. In the latest, Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Indian Army chief General MM Naravane visited Myanmar in October while Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh visited the country in February 2020.

Besides India, Japan too was trying to wean the country away from China. The last three to four months saw a number of high-profile visits from the Japanese, who were looking at enhancing the democratic and the electoral processes in the country.

Japan has been taking a proactive stand in peace talks. Yohei Sasakawa, special envoy of the government of Japan for national reconciliation in Myanmar, visited Naypyidaw regularly for his mediation role. Sasakawa met both – Suu Kyi as well as army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Also, he was successful in mediating with the rebel group Arakan Army (AA) which agreed to a ceasefire. The AA has been active in the Rakhine state, a province of great strategic importance to China and India due to its location in the Bay of Bengal – where China has developed the port of Kyaukphyu to be able to bypass the Malacca strait.

To ensure that the democratic credentials of Myanmar remained on track, Japan was ensuring that voters of various communities were not disenfranchised by the country. It supported the NLD administration, promoted reconciliation with minorities and was trying to ensure that the Myanmar military kept itself away from politics.

With the advent of democracy, Myanmar had been moving away from China, which has invested considerably through its manipulative China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Myanmar had also been stalling Chinese projects as it feared a debt trap on similar lines as Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar in the first week of January 2021 to speed up the CMEC projects. Wang's visit came soon after the Myanmar elections wherein he promised coronavirus vaccines and other pharmaceutical products to Myanmar as aid.

With the Tatmadaw springing a surprise, many nations will be on tenterhooks in a rapidly-changing world, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.