Shaking the Citadel of Democracy

We realized the pain of the threat to democracy on Jan 6, 2021, when the Capitol was under attack. Fortunately, the DC law enforcement thwarted an attack on the elected representatives and the Capitol. However, it would have been a tragic accident and a watershed event in the history of the US democracy and an entire experiment of global democracy if the US would have come under authoritarian rule. Fortunately, the US was saved, but Myanmar is an example of where it happened.

In the May 2019 issue of the Diplomat, Jieun Puin warned about China’s increasing influence in Myanmar. Like China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) has taken a toll on the Myanmar Democracy. It is unwise to exclusively blame the military junta for aborting a democratic election for the coup.

When democracies are trampled and their citadels attacked, it takes away the right of the common-men to decide her/his fate. Democracy offers the common man an ability to coexist with pleural views; an authoritarian or totalitarian system takes away that very right that we all are born with; by no means democracy is a perfect system or a panacea of hope. However, in such regimes, the common man is deprived of influencing his/her collective choices and future.

Word count 992; reading time 5-6 minutes. Why read this article? To understand the fragile dynamics on which democracies thrive. The torment and the anguish of the people of Myanmar are obvious.

Zoltan Barany in the 2015 issue of the Diplomat, had correctly voiced, that Suu Kyi’s NLD government challenges of managing its relationship with the Military, its inexperience with bureaucracy, the deep seated corruption and the menace from China. Almost a week now, the democratically elected government of Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s (pronounced chi) NLD was dismissed. Its leaders rounded up and bolted into confinement. Mother Suu Kyi herself is being investigated for having ten microphones, a high crime and treason?

Burmese Saga is all interesting.
We all know Aung Dang Suu Kyi spent 15 years in solitary confinement under house arrest. A daughter of a martyred military general, she was barred from holding high office since she married a British national. Until the Rohingya crisis ensnarled Myanmar, Suu Kyi was considered an apostle of human rights and rightly bestowed the noble prize.

Buddhist versus Muslim
It is worth lamenting that none of the 56 IOC Muslim countries took the cause of the Rohingya minorities. The Vatican was the first to voice the humanitarian crisis, not considering his faith. It is not news since the refugee crisis that emerged after ISIS in Sudan, and its hinterland consisting of Iraq and neighboring countries broke loose. As though Europe was their natural destination, none of the 56 Muslim countries offered asylum to these refugees. Turkey accepted few but acted more as a conduit and transition hub for these refugees to Europe. Of course, it demanded financial support for taking care of these refugees. At that moment, I felt as though the refugees were abandoned children of Europe that they had to take care of.

How are Buddhist connected to Rohingya?
In a Buddhist majority nation, the infiltration by Muslims from Rakhine province was seen as infiltration. Suspicions of radical activities initiated a spate of violence. Ideally, in my opinion, it was ethnic strife that was colored with religion. Irrespective, Aung Sang Suu Kyi defended its military action at the Hague, which eroded her credibility.

In Myanmar, the Military Junta, also called Tatmadaw, are deeply institutionalized and legitimized through statutes. Any change to the statute needs a 75% vote from the combined elected house. However, the Military has 25% representation on the constitutional bodies (for enacting the law). Simply speaking, it is farcical to think of Myanmar as a democracy. Democracy in Myanmar, like that in Pakistan, is a facade for the Military. Those who are conversant with the Pakistani model of military democracy need no priming on this subject, except that it does not have a gnawing hatred towards India. Like in Pakistan, the Myanmar Military has built deep inroads into various facets of the business. The Junta directly owns State-owned financial institutions.

Mother – More than an apostle of democracy
Suu Kyi is more a mother than just a hope for democracy. While her husband was on death bed, she wanted to visit him in the UK. The Junta gave her a simple option, a one-way ticket to the UK, and renounced her citizenship. She preferred to stay behind for her people, understandably a tough decision.

The Chinese Angle
Under Aung San Suu Kyi, the annual trade volume between China and Myanmar, declined 22.9% to $4.67 billion. Also, Kyaukpyu development in southern Rakhine state, which the Chinese planned as a strategic port with access to the Indian Ocean stalled under Suu Kyi. In recent times, under Suu Kyi, the national debt towards China decreased by 26%. Financial and economic engagement with the west increased significantly. This was a definite threat to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. At least two ports, one facing the Bay of Bengal (with direct sight to Chennai, Vaizac, and Kolkatta) and the other Yangon, facing the Indian Ocean, are critical for China. Both these ports and the BRI were under direct threat from a democratically ruled NLD government. Destabilization is the cornerstone of authoritarianism, and the Chinese are adept at sowing the seeds of such destabilization. It is equally true that the instability in the Kachin and the Shan State adjacent to the China border, drove several rifuges to the Yunnan province of China.

Aijas Ariffin, https://theaseanpost.com/article/myanmar-crisis-getting-out-hand

Min Aung Hlaing – A pent up lifetime hope
Unlike democratically elected governments, authoritarian governments are ruled by rulers with a long half-life. Putin, Xi, Pakistani Military, North Korea, and now Erdogan are classic examples. Myanmar junta, too, has the same propensity. Its disgraced General from the Rohingya atrocities was about to retire.

A perfect opportunity
Chinese support, tarnished credibility (from Rohingya atrocities), huge loss at elections, and the aspiration to be a lifetime leader all provided a perfect culmination for a coup. Min Aung Hlaing became the de facto leader of the Junta.

Do we have a problem with the Military?
Well, let’s rephrase this. Why should Myanmar being ruled by Military or Democratically elected leader be a global issue? Aren’t militarily ruled nations not properly managed as compared to some of the democracies? I, too, share this concern along with you. However, with authoritarian rule, the mechanism of transparency, audit, and accountability are all vested into a single person’s hands. It is not about corruption, but it is about conflict of interest and the monstrous ability to hide and suppress that compromises the common man’s life.

Democracy gives that right to the common-men to decide her/his fate. Democracy offers an ability to coexist; by no means democracy is a perfect system or a panacea of hope.

Shashank Heda
Dallas, Texas

Who is Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing? 5 things to know
https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Coup/Who-is-Myanmar-junta-chief-Min-Aung-Hlaing-5-things-to-know

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Belt-and-Road/Renewed-conflict-in-Myanmar-slows-China-s-Belt-and-Road-projects

https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/myanmars-fragile-democracy-needs-the-us-not-china/

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2015-12-01/democracy-myanmar

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