FIRING LINE: Myanmar deserves better

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

What’s happening right now in Myanmar is like a COVID-19 attack on its democracy. For me, it was by arrogance and shameless lack of concern for his own people that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had the gut to grab power and push his ambition, knowing the dangerous consequences in this time of the pandemic.

By wresting power from a duly-elected government, fresh from a landslide victory last November, Min Aung Hlaing reeks of traditional military distaste for civilian rule. His soldiers struck in the wee hours of the morning of February 1, detaining State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader so overly accustomed to being arrested by the military as being popular among the great majority of Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society.

President Win Myint, Suu Kyi’s man-Friday, and the political leadership she had formed under her National League for Democracy (NLD) – which has fought military dictatorship for decades – were arrested, too. Now, the capital Naypyitaw is a staging ground for mass protests and civil disobedience to bring back its popular government.

That same call for a return to the status quo was echoed by our Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., through a rant that blamed the Western world for raising Suu Kyi on a pedestal of its democratic design only to use the same to blemish her reputation and shred it to pieces by imposing its will and judgment on her decade-young and fragile government.

In the middle of the worst-case pandemic scenarios globally, Myanmar’s junta puts further strain on its already ailing health sector and economy. And while Min Aung Hlaing speaks of free elections one year, hence, on the pretext that the NLD’s landslide win was a fraud, what credibility does this junta chief have in accepting the people’s will on the ballot next year if he couldn’t take it last year? Did I mention that the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military force, is supporting the main opposition party?

Very painfully and sadly, even the ongoing protests – although uniting divided civilian factions and ethnic minorities – might even play into Min Aung Hlaing’s hands. If mass actions prevail, all the more would he invoke civil unrest as a justification for military rule and his stay in power. The last time a military junta took over Myanmar, it lasted 23 years – the same one Suu Kyi devoted her political life to overthrow through her iconic and ironic militant meekness in detention. Is fate asking her to do it again?

With two protesters killed by bullets fired by security forces as of Sunday, international condemnation for military violence as a response to public discontent is pouring in. It would be best for Myanmar’s future if its leader of putschists heeds the people’s call. The only problem is, as former Australian ambassador to Myanmar Nicholas Coppel puts it in one of his published interviews: “The senior general is not a listener — he talks and others listen… This big-man management style is conducive to ignorance and arrogance.”

This observation proves Min Aung Hlaing is just as I’d thought – another despot. Oh, but Myanmar deserves better!

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