Alert+ – Year Long State of Emergency Declared Following Military Coup d’Etat
Myanmar– 01 February 2021 – Political Risk
On 1 February, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup d’état that saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government officials detained in a series of early morning raids. Following the coup, a video address broadcast on military-run television network confirmed power had been handed to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and that a year-long state of emergency had been enacted.
Mobile internet connections and some phone services have been disrupted in major cities, especially in the largest city, Yangon, and the capital, Naypyidaw. The country’s state broadcaster MRTV is also reportedly off-air, citing technical difficulties.
Separately, on 30 January, the country had extended its restrictions on international flights as result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the military has since taken control of the country’s airports and there are unconfirmed reports that border points are closed. Additionally, roadblocks and military checkpoints both likely in the coming days.
The coup comes after several days of escalating tensions between the civilian government and military over the results of November 2020’s election. The military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed poorly in the vote, which was won comprehensively by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Ms Suu Kyi.
The USDP refused to recognise the results and the military conducted a campaign to discredit the elections, citing electoral fraud and voter irregularities, as well as threatening to “take action” and abolish the constitution in January.
The situation had appeared to have calmed over the weekend with the military appearing to have stepped back from the coup threat and stating that it would abide by the law and protect the constitution. Despite this, the military launched the coup during the early hours of 1 February, quickly detaining key politicians and declaring emergency military rule.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
The military’s actions have sparked condemnation from the international community with Australia’s Foreign Minister expressing concern and calling on the military to “respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders”. The EU, UK, US and United Nations have all also condemned the military coup.
The coup is a blow for the democracy movement in Myanmar, bringing the country back under military rule, which it had previously been between 1962 and 2011.
For observers, the timing of the coup fits, with the detentions coming on the morning when the result of the election would have been enshrined, with all political leaders gathered to mark the occasion. However, it is unclear what the military has to gain. Despite the poor performance in the election, the military continued to wield strong influence and, thanks to the 2008 constitution, are guaranteed three key ministries and 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Indeed, the military never really submitted to civilian rule.
It is likely then that the landslide NLD victory and widespread popularity has been seen as a threat to the military’s position. Despite the control of the country’s political landscape that the military enjoys, notably the controversial 2008 constitution, it had, from its perspective, lost significant control of the political process.
Going forward, unrest in Myanmar should be expected. Protests have already occurred in Tokyo and Bangkok as a result of the coup and the detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms Suu Kyi. The NLD have also stated that Suu Kyi was calling on people to protest against the military coup. Should a protest gain strength, there remains a risk that the crisis could escalate, with protesters pitched directly against the military.
An important factor for the crisis will be China’s stance. Beijing sees political stability as crucial for its Belt and Road Initiative. The country also has strong ties with the NLD, endorsing their victory and second term. However, it remains unlikely that China will impose much diplomatic pressure on the country.
SOLACE GLOBAL ADVICE
- Defer all travel to the country for the coming weeks.
- Travel managers should also look to keep regular contact with staff in-country and keep abreast of the latest updates
- Staff and travellers in Myanmar should closely monitor developments to the situation.
- Look to shelter-in-place for the time being and limit non-essential movement.
- Expect an increased security and military presence throughout the country.
- Adhere to all instructions issued by the military; this could include curfew or movement restrictions.
- Ensure you have adequate supplies to last at least a week.
- Anticipate disruptions to internet and telecommunication networks in the coming days.
- Avoid all protests and large gatherings as a safety precaution.
- If not already done so, establish contact with a trusted point of contact to confirm your safety and current location.
- Try to limit the use of cash as banks have closed and ATM services have been disrupted. Where possible, pay for essential items using digital payment where possible and keep cash for emergency use.
- Additionally, ensure that you establish contact with your respective embassy or consular service; monitor their respective websites for updates and/or advice.
- Be aware that the military has taken control of airports with reports that flight operations have been disrupted for the coming days, therefore, evacuation out of the country may not be possible in the near-term.
- Ensure you have an emergency ‘grab bag’ packed in case the security situation deteriorates and you need to evacuate to an alternate location. Pack spare clothes, hygiene supplies, phone charger and battery bank/batteries, torch, first aid kit, emergency food/water and personal identification documents.
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