Myanmar After the Coup

During a recent Ash Center event, experts discussed how the people of Myanmar have responded to recent events and what potential remains for a democratic future in the country.

Photo of a computer screen that's displaying a zoom

The February 1st coup launched by Myanmar’s military effectively put an end to the country’s tentative transition to democracy as civilian political leaders were imprisoned and the results of the 2020 elections annulled. During an event sponsored by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and moderated by HKS Professor of Public Policy Tarek Masoud, Pwint Htun, Non-Residential Myanmar Program Fellow at the Ash Center, and Derek Mitchell, president of the National Democratic Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, discussed how the people of Myanmar have responded to recent events, and whether there still exists a path to democracy in the country. The following excerpts were taken from the discussion.  

Pwint Htun, Non-Residential Myanmar Program Fellow and social innovator working to bring digital communications technology to rural areas of Myanmar:

“People’s fear of returning to the dark days is a much bigger fear than being killed by the military at the moment. I know the mothers in Myanmar are saying that we know what it’s like to live under the fear of military and police. That era of fear, that era of oppression has to end now. And these women and young people of Myanmar are saying enough.”

“We need an end to the culture of impunity for the military, this institution that has committed gross violations of people’s human rights and mass atrocities over the decades. And we need to shift power from the men with guns, to women with smartphones.”

“Aung Sun Suu Kyi has written a lot about Nehru and Gandhi. And she wrote that in her book, ‘Freedom From Fear,’ that Gandhi’s greatest legacy is in instilling courage in the people of Indiana. And I think Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s one legacy is that she has instilled courage in the people of Myanmar, and I think that is going to be one important legacy for the country moving forward — that we have fearless multi-generations that these people will never take democracy for granted ever again in the future.”

Screenshot of the webinar to discuss the Myanmar Coup
Hundreds of attendees tuned in to hear Pwint Htun (upper-left) and Derek Mitchell (upper-right) discuss the ongoing protests in Myanmar and hope for the future with Tarek Masoud.

Derek Mitchell, President of the National Democratic Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar from 2011-2016 who worked to support the country’s transition towards democracy:

“This coup that destabilized the country and impacted the state of minds of millions of people all over the country, is all to enhance the egotistical commander in chief. So my earnest hope is that there are people within the military who will put the country before the institution of the military.”

“The people are saying enough is enough. We’ve wanted this change. We want the military out. This hybrid system doesn’t work.”

“The people of Myanmar, they want their dignity and freedom… They’re very proud, they’re very stubborn. They will not give up. But the challenge is how do you get the stubborn military to recognize that they’re in the way and figure out a way that they can step back from this and find a new way.”

“[China] wants to have a privileged position in Myanmar. They view the country as their sphere of influence. So they want to have privileged access to resources, privilege access to the Indian Ocean, and they also want…the West out.”

“The Chinese don’t care about Myanmar at all. The people know it, and the military also knows it very well.”

Tarek Masoud, Professor of Public Policy and Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman Professor of International Relations at HKS, who studies how democracies and emerge and regress through much of the developing world:

“The events of the last few days suggest that the people of Myanmar are doing their best to defy the grim predictions of the dismal social scientists. Far from acquiescing in the elimination of their country’s small margin of democracy, they have taken to the streets to restore it. And while the military shows no sign of acceding to their demands, it’s clear that we cannot yet talk about the failure of Myanmar’s democracy.”

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