Six months after the junta in Myanmar seized power by ejecting yet another elected government helmed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military brass (Tatmadaw) led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has extended the state of emergency in the country for another two years. Sunday’s decision was announced in the face of a pledge by protesters that they will persevere.
The move, announced in a televised address, effectively ruled out democratic governance in Myanmar before 2023. It bears recall that until last year the embattled nation bore witness to a rare case in which an authoritarian regime had peacefully handed a measure of power to an elected government.
The coup on February 1 also ran counter to the assurance by the generals that they were serious about the restoration of political freedoms.
On Sunday, the State Administration Council, as the junta calls itself, announced the formation of a new caretaker government with General Min Aung Hlaing as Prime Minister. A sinister message has thus been conveyed to Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.
Since February, at least 940 people have died at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces, according to a tally kept by a monitoring group.
More than 5,400 people are in detention, including all of Myanmar’s senior elected leadership. To rub salt on the wounds, Suu Kyi has been charged with various crimes, including sedition, that could keep her imprisoned for the rest of her life.
Her National League for Democracy, the party which won two overwhelming mandates from the people during the short period in which the army shared power with civilians, was disbanded. At another remove, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the junta’s leader, announced on Sunday that he effectively ruled out any return to democracy before August 2023.
In short, the military has decided to ignore global criticism of its actions, and efforts by its Southeast Asian friends to make it see reason. Confusion has been worse confounded by the public health emergency. Myanmar is also plagued by the coronavirus, a health disaster that has been exacerbated by the junta’s obduracy.
The military has monopolised oxygen supplies, stalled vaccinations and even denied lifesaving treatment to those who have opposed its rule. A private trade in oxygen was made illegal. Bodies are piling up at crematoria even as the national health authorities, under the control of the junta, report a suspiciously low death toll each day.
Officially, Myanmar reported 4,725 coronavirus cases and 392 deaths until Saturday. In his speech on Sunday, General Min Aung Hlaing, dressed in civilian clothes rather than his army uniform, said he was concerned about the pandemic.
“Nothing other than individual life is of crucial significance,” he said.
“That’s my policy.” The junta, however, has all but halted a vaccination campaign and has reserved injections for its soldiers.