Why Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup

Wearing masks, gloves and face shields, voters across Myanmar on November 8 braved surging coronavirus infections as they turned out en masse to cast their ballots in the country’s second democratic vote since the end of military rule in 2011.

At polling stations in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, the enthusiasm was palpable.

“People are excited to vote, as they would like to escape from the political struggles,” one poll worker said at the time. “They want real democracy.”

Trouble, however, was already brewing.

Just days before the polls, Myanmar’s powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing had raised the possibility the army may not accept the outcome of the election. Accusing Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government of “unacceptable mistakes”, he told a local news outlet that “we are in a situation where we need to be cautious” about the results of the poll.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) went on to secure a landslide victory, taking more than 80 percent of the vote and increasing its support from the 2015 vote. But the result drew immediate allegations of fraud and calls for a rerun from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, supported the USDP’s assertions, claiming without proof that its own investigation had found 10.5 million suspect votes.

Then, on Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing threatened to repeal the constitution.

The apparent coup threat prompted widespread international condemnation and the military walked back its warning, saying the media had misinterpreted the general’s comments.

But by Monday morning, the threat had become a reality.

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