The Myanmar military’s seizure of power on Monday follows weeks of tensions with civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government.
Suu Kyi and other top civilian leaders were taken into custody by soldiers on the same day as the first new parliamentary session was due to be held since a national election last November.
Here’s what we know so far:
How Did the Crisis Begin?
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party swept last year’s poll in a landslide, winning by an even greater margin than the 2015 vote that brought the former Nobel laureate to power.
But the country’s military, which has ruled Myanmar for most of the last 60 years, says the vote was plagued by irregularities. It claims to have uncovered more than 10 million instances of voter fraud and has demanded the government-run election commission release voter lists for cross-checking.
Tensions grew after General Min Aung Hlaing — the head of the military and arguably Myanmar’s most powerful individual — gave a speech warning that the country’s constitution could be “revoked” if it is not respected.
Last week army tanks were also briefly deployed on the streets of commercial hub Yangon, the capital Naypyidaw and elsewhere, along with protests against the election result by pro-military supporters.
What’s the Current State of Play?
The army has declared a state of emergency and says it will take power for 12 months.
Myint Swe, a former general who ran the powerful Yangon military command and the current vice-president of Myanmar, will become acting president for the next year. But it appears he will not be the one running the show.
VIDEO: Military presence has been beefed up along the streets of the capital.
The military staged a coup on Monday, detaining democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and declaring it had taken control of the country for one year under a state of emergency. pic.twitter.com/CLtERbmYRh
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) February 1, 2021
In a statement read out on military-run Myawaddy TV and signed by Myint Swe, he said “legislative, judicial and executive powers” have been handed over to Min Aung Hlaing — effectively returning Myanmar to military rule.
The army later pledged to hold fresh elections after the year-long state of emergency. “A free and fair multiparty general election will be held and then state responsibilities will be handed over to the winning party,” a statement on the army’s official Facebook page said.
Has This Happened Before?
Myanmar has been ruled by military regimes for most of its history since independence from former colonial power Britain in 1948.
General Ne Win ousted a civilian administration in 1962, saying it was not competent enough to govern. He ran the country for the next 26 years but stepped down in 1988 after huge nationwide protests against economic stagnation and authoritarian rule.
A new generation of military leaders took command a few weeks later, citing the need to restore law and order in the country.
Junta leader General Than Shwe stepped down in 2011, handing over power to a government of retired generals after adopting the country’s current constitution.
Will the Constitution Stand?
The 2008 constitution carved out a powerful ongoing political role for the military, giving it control of the key interior, border, and defense ministries. Any changes need the support of military lawmakers, who control a quarter of seats in the country’s parliament.
Its guarantee of military power makes the constitution a “deeply unpopular” document, according to Yangon-based political analyst Khin Zaw Win.
Suu Kyi and her government have been trying to amend the charter since winning the 2015 election, with little success. During the last term, she circumvented a rule that prevented her from assuming the presidency by taking the de facto leadership role of “state counselor.”
This loophole is one of several the military did not foresee, political analyst Soe Myint Aung said. “From their perspective, it has lost significant control over the political process,” he told AFP.
What Happens Next?
The constitution says a state of emergency can be declared for up to a year — a timeline the military appeared to be in agreement with on Monday. But given the institution’s near-total control of the country, that timeframe remains up in the air.
No matter what happens next, the general will try “to stack the game in his favor,” said Herve Lemahieu of Australia’s Lowy Institute.
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi had issued a pre-emptive call for people to reject any military takeover before she was detained on Monday, her party said.
According to a post on the official Facebook page of the chair of the National League for Democracy, she had called on people “not to accept a coup.”