Myanmar’s military has seized power in a coup, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the country’s ruling party after several days of rising tensions over the results of a recent election.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s 75-year-old state counsellor, President Win Myint and other members of the ruling National League for Democracy party were arrested at their residences in the capital Naypyidaw early on Monday.
Later in the morning, Myanmar’s military said that it had taken control of the country and declared a state of emergency for a year, handing power to Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s powerful commander-in-chief.
Residents of the commercial capital Yangon and other cities said that service for all four of the country’s telecoms companies had been cut off, some internet service providers were down and terrestrial television service was restricted to the military’s Myawaddy TV channel.
The military’s power grab came hours before Myanmar’s newly elected parliament was due to meet for the first time since a November 8 election, the results of which the military has contested.
Sean Turnell, an Australian academic who serves as an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, confirmed news agency reports of the arrests.
“All the people in Naypyidaw have been cut off, so it looks like the reports about Aung San Suu Kyi and the president being detained appear to be true,” he told the Financial Times from Yangon.
Last week, Myanmar’s military and Min Aung Hlaing suggested they were ready to launch a coup after complaining about alleged irregularities in the November election.
The NLD won the poll by a landslide, ensuring Aung San Suu Kyi a second five-year term in office. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party was trounced, but it refused to recognise the results, with the backing of senior military leaders.
As tensions between the government and military rose last week, Myanmar’s election commission rejected the military’s allegations of vote fraud. A group of domestic election observer organisations that had monitored the vote said that while there were some shortcomings in the process, overall “the results of the elections were credible and reflected the will of the majority voters”.
On Friday, the UN and the embassies of several European countries and the US issued statements saying they opposed any effort by Myanmar’s military to overturn the election’s result.
However, on Saturday the military appeared to step away from the coup threat, saying it would abide by and protect the constitution.
The coup was a blow to democratic hopes in a country that was ruled by the military from 1962 to 2011, when Myanmar began its transition to democracy under a constitution that reserved three important ministries and 25 per cent of parliament for army appointees. The NLD took power in 2016 under a civilian government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thant Myint-U, a historian and author of several books on Myanmar, said Monday’s events opened the door to “an incredibly uncertain future”.
“Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with millions in desperate poverty and deep ethnic and religious divisions,” he said. “The possibility of far more bloodshed than we’ve seen in recent years is not unimaginable.”
The US and Australia condemned the military’s actions on Monday. The White House issued a statement saying it was “alarmed” at news of the arrests and said that President Joe Biden had been briefed by national security adviser Jake Sullivan abut the situation.
“We continue to affirm our strong support for Burma’s democratic institutions and, in co-ordination with our regional partners, urge the military and all other parties to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, and to release those detained today,” the statement said.
Australia’s government said it was “deeply concerned at reports the Myanmar military is once again seeking to seize control of Myanmar” in a statement by Marise Payne, the minister of foreign affairs.