Myanmar junta looks to extend rule as nation counts losses in two years since coup

Myanmar’s top military leaders dropped hints on Tuesday, the eve of the second anniversary of their overthrow of the civilian government, that they may extend emergency rule, declaring an “extraordinary situation” in light of ongoing resistance to junt…

Myanmar’s top military leaders dropped hints on Tuesday, the eve of the second anniversary of their overthrow of the civilian government, that they may extend emergency rule, declaring an “extraordinary situation” in light of ongoing resistance to junta rule.

The 11-member National Defense and Security Council, which local media said would announce a decision on Wednesday, looks set to offer Myanmar’s people either six more months of harsh military rule, an election later this year that opponents have dismissed as a sham because it is rigged to keep junta officials in power, or a combination of both.

Junta chief Senior. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy on Feb. 1, 2021–about two months after their landslide election victory– blamed opposition forces for disrupting its rule.

Junta figures cited groups formed from deposed lawmakers and officials–the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and the National Unity Government–as well as the numerous local militias known as People’s Defense Forces that have fought the junta across Myanmar since 2021.

“As you can see, some local and foreign organizations are committing destructive activities against this election. But we are trying to hold a free and fair election throughout the whole country,” Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the junta spokesman, told Radio Free Asia.

The proposed election has been largely rejected by civilian parties because of onerous registration and finance regulations unveiled recently that tilt the playing field in favor of the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party.

In the two previous parliamentary polls, the party lost badly to Suu Kyi’s National league for Democracy, and its unproven claim of voter fraud in the 2020 election was what prompted the coup.

‘He wants to be president’

Myanmar political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would do whatever it takes to stay in power, either by forcing an election within six months or declaring martial law.

“His promise to return to the path of democracy in Myanmar is just a cover story. He wants to be the president,’ he said.

“He wants to gain the presidency himself. But the election will not be accepted by the world, except for Russia and China, of course,” added Than Soe Naing, referring to continued support for the junta from Beijing and Moscow.

In a sign of growing foreign opprobrium toward the junta on the two-year anniversary, the U.S. and its allies on Tuesday announced fresh sanctions on the military regime.

Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining firms and energy officials, and other regime-linked entities, the Treasury Department said. Similar measures were unveiled by Canada, Australia, Britain and Canada.

Falling currency, worsening corruption

In a sign of falling confidence in the junta, the value of the country’s currency, the kyat, has dropped by 50 percent in the two years to December 2022, according to a report released by the World Bank on Monday.

“The people’s livelihood is becoming more and more difficult. If it goes on like this, it will continue to decline further and the situation of the country will get worse,” said an economist in Myanmar, who requested anonymity for personal safety.

Further fallout from the coup was traced by a leading corruption watchdog.

Myanmar has fallen 17 places in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, supplanting Cambodia as Southeast Asia’s worst country for graft for the first time in a decade and ahead of only North Korea in Asia for clean government.

Despite all the adverse developments, the head of a pro-military think tank told RFA things were looking up.

“In summary, we are leading to a more stable situation and it’s almost certain that the election is happening,” said Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, which is made up of former military officers.

Opponents of the junta, the latest iteration of military governments that have ruled Myanmar for more that 50 of its 75 years since it gained independence from British colonial rule, said the coup had destroyed the country’s fledgling democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech.

“As political parties, we can’t go into the public and organize and spread political awareness among the people,” said Tun Aung Kyaw, a senior official of the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Rakhine ethnic minority in western Myanmar.

“There is a very vast difference between the situation now and that of the previous government,” he told RFA.

“We established political parties in order to create a political environment for the people to develop our democracy, but these parties themselves are struggling,” said Sai Laik, the general secretary of Shan National League for Democracy in northern Myanmar.

“When the military operations have replaced the politics of the parties like now, you can say that their role and political activities have become almost non-existent.” he told RFA.

Targeting the opposition

But it is the party of jailed Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, that bore the brunt of junta atrocities.

According to the National League for Democracy’s human rights research department, junta troops have killed at least 84 party members and officials and arrested at least 1,232 others since the February 2021 coup. Of those killed, 16 died in interrogation, eight in prison, one by execution, and 59 others “for no reason.”

Democracy icon Suu Kyi, 77, was sentenced to another seven years in prison at the end of 2022 on five counts of alleged corruption, bringing the total number of years she must serve in detention to 33 on 24 counts, prison sources said.

“The main reason for the military coup is the military dictator’s power-madness and greed to control all sectors of the country forever, regardless of the people’s needs and interests,” said Kyaw Htwe, an executive of the National League for Democracy.

“The only way to rectify the country’s total deterioration is to overthrow the military dictatorship and build a federal democratic nation.”

Meanwhile, residents of the France-sized country are struggling with surging commodity prices, power outages, transportation difficulties, crime and lawlessness.

“About 50 percent of our country is in a state of disintegration,” said Than Soe Naing, the political analyst.

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