The precariousness of Myanmar's "transition" to democracy, a road embarked on but yet far from travelled, was clearly understood at home and abroad. The army coup that has toppled the once-admired but sorely compromised Aung San Suu Kyi was widely signalled, but its prospect still largely discounted. It has ripped away the veneer of peaceful coexistence and power-sharing between the country's powerful and corrupt army and its civil society.
Myanmar and its generals, after an uneasy experiment in democracy, have returned to their default position, the military rule that prevailed for 47 years until 2016.
Myanmar is a strategically important interface between India and China and condemnation of the coup has come in from all around the world
By Monday the army had arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and scores of government figures from her National League for Democracy and seized power. It alleges “terrible fraud” in November’s election, which had seen it routed in polls whose main flaw was the exclusion of ethnic minority voters – never likely to support it. Now the promise is of elections after a year of emergency rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her nonviolent resistance to the military junta, had reached a modus vivendi with the military under the “agreed” constitution. It maintained a check on civilian power by reserving three ministries and a quarter of parliamentary seats for the generals. It was a compromise which saw her refraining from criticising the army’s excesses, notably the genocidal crackdown on and forced expulsions of the minority Rohingya.
But riding the tiger was a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating strategy which has also all but destroyed her international reputation, although she remains popular at home.
Myanmar is a strategically important interface between India and China and condemnation of the coup has come in from all around the world. A milder rebuke came from China, whose statement spoke only of the defence of the constitution, a fig leaf also deployed by the military. It is crucial the world follows up immediately with action to isolate and sanction the new regime.