Understanding its history of resistance rather than sanctions can help Myanmar now


Understanding its history of resistance rather than sanctions can help Myanmar now

Few things capture the eerie nature of Myanmar’s recent political saga better than a Burmese physical education teacher’s rise
to global internet fame last week, when her morning exercise video accidentally included some raw footage of an unfolding
coup in the background.

A formerly isolated military dictatorship that has reformed and opened up drastically since 2010, Myanmar never completely
got rid of its junta legacy.

In the early morning hours of Feb 1, the Southeast Asian country’s military - the Tatmadaw, as it is officially known in
the country - decided to reclaim its status as Myanmar’s sole centre of political power, arresting dozens of key civilian
politicians and activists, declaring a state of emergency, and transferring power to its commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing.

Many observers of the country’s political history have offered explanations for why the coup occurred at this moment.

Some highlighted the Tatmadaw’s insecurity over its future status, since the popularly-elected civilian government led by
Aung San Suu Kyi has attempted to reduce the military’s political authority.

Others emphasise the Tatmadaw’s demand for respect, which the ruling party - the National League for Democracy -
has outright denied by refusing to investigate the military’s claim of voter fraud in the November 2020 general election.

Although the country’s liberalisation in the past 10 years has stagnated at times, and systematically excluded many ethnic
and religious minority groups, it has nonetheless brought unprecedented political rights and economic opportunities to
a large swath of the population.

Compared to the pre-2010 military dictatorship, under a largely civilian-run system, the majority of people in Myanmar have
enjoyed expanded freedoms of expression and assembly, the right to vote and political representation, and increasing
business and education opportunities, together with unrestricted international exposure and internet access.

The coup, to them, means regressing to a dark past where none of these existed - and turning their lives upside down.

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