Early in the hours of Monday morning, Myanmar’s armed forces detained Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the ruling party National League for Democracy (NLD), alongside a number of other key democratic figures.
The armed forces declared a state of emergency and handed power over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, in an apparent coup.
Here at the Asia Media Centre, we’ve pulled together media reports of what’s happening on the ground, alongside context on the tension between the military and the democratically elected government.
For a history of Myanmar’s elections and the context of last year’s elections, have a read of the Asia Media Centre’s piece here as well as our past interview with the New Zealand ambassador to Myanmar, Steve Marshall.
Myanmar has spent decades under military rule, with its first steps to democracy happening slowly over the last two decades. 2015 saw the country's first open democratic election, which the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi won. They repeated their win in November 2020, with a landslide victory against its opposition, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
But following the 2020 election, Myanmar’s military - known as the Tatmadaw - has frequently alleged that mass electoral fraud had taken place, despite Myanmar’s Union Election Commission officially investigating and rejecting their claims.
The Tatmadaw’s claims were widely seen as “a joint move together with its proxy the USDP to discredit the NLD’s victory”, according to reporting from local outlet The Irrawaddy.
Within the last week, tensions in the country have risen between the military and the civilian government, as the government prepared to convene parliament in the new year. Comments made by the leading figures in the Tatmadaw added fuel to concern that the military would lead a coup against Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.
On January 26, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said “the military will abide by existing laws including the Constitution. But that doesn’t mean the military will take responsibility for the state or won’t take responsibility for the state.”
Following his comments, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that the country’s 2008 constitution could go the way of previous charters “if the law is not abided by”.
Despite pressure from the United Nations and Western embassies, the armed forces refused to rule out a coup if its demand for an investigation into alleged electoral fraud was not met, according to The Irrawaddy.
The military and the government met on January 28 in what was called an “effort to overcome the current political crisis”. But the meeting resolved nothing: the military demanded the Union Election Commission be abolished and for all the votes to be recounted – with the military’s help. Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly rejected all demands.
Against this backdrop, early in the morning of February 1 in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures from the NLD were detained by the military - hours before parliament was due to convene for the first time in 2021. Communications across parts of Myanmar were cut off within hours and movement in and around the country was restricted.
- Asia Media Centre