Saturday, 26 November, 2022

Junta in Retreat: What Future Holds for Myanmar?

Mehzabin Maliha Hossain

Since it had ascended into throne by usurping power, the military junta in Myanmar confronted a series of unforeseen challenges. Unlike its historical unchallenged hold on power, indications abound that the junta finds itself increasingly frazzled, in face of coordinated challenges from the country's fringe political movements. Despite the ascendence and continued assertion of the alternative government of Myanmar, termed as National Unity Government (NUG), international recognition of the government is still unforthcoming, often driven by complex geo-political considerations.

Setting the Scene

After the denial of the national election of Myanmar in February 2021, the military junta in Myanmar ousted the elected government to assume power in Myanmar, on the pretext that the election was fraudulent and engineered. While the NLD (National League for Democracy) conclusively won the election with an overwhelming majority of 396 out of 476 seats, and despite the military's first statement stipulating that the election was carried out successfully, the sudden accusation made it evident that the military was wrestling for power, for fear that its clout would be curtailed after such sweeping victory of the NLD. The coup was soon followed by swift incarceration of the key individual, a year-long emergency was soon proclaimed, and the power had been vested in the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw.

In the wake of the coup, the Tatmadaw relapsed into its previous role and quashed the fledging democratic rights and institutions of the country that occasioned in the wake of liberalisation. The junta blatantly emulated the playbook of the dictators and unleashed brutal force to repress any expression of dissent against the Junta's arbitrary seizure of power. The military soon incarcerated civilians, democracy activists, political leaders and businessmen. Besides, torture and murder had been weaponised to silence the dissent, and the junta had little scruples in unleashing brutality against peaceful protesters. While the junta paid lip service to the constitutional principles, the fact remained that the coup effectively revoked the 2008 constitution, heralding an era reminiscent of Myanmar's prolonged military rule.

To further consolidate its hold on the levers of power, the junta enacted a series of draconian laws that deprived the people of Myanmar of legal safeguards. The implementation of the new legislation rendered fundamental rights into jeopardy, while facilitating the seizure of state apparatus unconstrained by vociferous reprisals of citizens. Besides, the junta curbed the internet, through sporadic disruption of access, and blocked online newspapers and social media platforms. Moreover, the junta deployed a slew of unprecedented actions to muzzle the simmering discontent among the people regarding its rule. The coup hastened Myanmar's plunge into a failing regime, as the strained ethnic relations were inflamed and presaged a resurgence of civil war.

Junta Confronts Multidimensional Backlash

The brutal tactics of the Junta evoked robust backlash from the younger people, as young people were staunch in their resolve that nothing short of armed struggle would restore democracy. Moreover, the junta encountered formidable challenges on military and military fronts. While the civil disobedience movement gained momentum, this movement was further reinforced by the emergence of shadow government, thus intensifying challenges for the junta on the political front. The National Unity Government (NUG) purported to be the legitimate authority for Myanmar and enjoined international recognition. Soon, NUG had extended its remit to form the armed wing, termed as "People's Defence Force" to unleash military actions to challenge the junta, thus posing pressure on the military front as well.

The challenges were further multiplied as Myanmar had historically been riven by entrenched local insurgencies. The ethnic groups challenge the junta rulers locally through military capacity, which makes it intractable for the junta in consolidating political control. Besides, despite lacking decisive action, the outpouring of international scrutiny rendered the junta a global pariah and outcast in the region, pointing towards a diplomatic reversal for the junta. Moreover, these actions put the military junta in unforeseen jeopardy, as the junta was thwarted on three fronts: diplomatic, military, and political. However, the Junta forged links with some insurgency groups, especially with Arakan Army. However, that special link has been severed, as Arakan Army is more inclined toward consolidating its clout in the Rakhine State. Junta increasingly turned against the Arakan Army as the interests could not be reconciled. Thus, both parties engaged in skirmishes in August.

Junta on the Verge of Precarious Cliff

The military junta is currently in a precarious state in Rakhine, as the junta had lost its hitherto presence in Rakhine. Besides, the Junta military had been assailed by the Arakan Army and as a result, lost important military outposts and the supply lines and communication had been severely disrupted.

Despite unleashing the brutal force, and despite the indiscriminate repression of the dissenting voices, it is now evident that the strategic gains of the junta are still negligible. The media reports indicate that the junta only wields power over 17 per cent of the territory, while NUG controls a staggering 52 per cent of the territory. Hence, it is evident that Junta had lost its previous sway and leverage over the political and military domains of Myanmar, as the NUG government, buttressed by local movements, has gained momentum in Myanmar.

Diversionary Tactics

Given this evident failure of the junta to effectively consolidate its power, the junta power has followed the playbook of other autocratic powers across the world. As with other autocratic powers, the junta government had also deployed diversionary tactics to conceal its declining hold on Myanmar and tried to ratchet up tensions with Bangladesh, through recurring and unprovoked violations of the air space. This gratuitous violation of violation, which translates to infringement of sovereignty, is at odds with the principles of international law. As there is a lack of precedents of the international community to take decisive actions against Myanmar to hold it accountable in instances of its earlier violation, the junta had little compunction that would restrain the country from such gross violations of international law. Moreover, the junta had turned into an international anathema, and the ASEAN also undertook actions against the junta, such as not inviting a representative of the junta government to ASEAN meetings and summits, which translates to not acknowledging the junta as the rightful authority of Myanmar.

Moreover, the overt displeasure of both regional and international actors about the Myanmar Junta, and the loss of the junta's political and military leverage, bodes ill for the future viability of the junta's power. This led the junta to undertake diversionary tactics, embodied in wanton airspace violation of the Junta, as the lack of any international actions in previous violations reinforced such unrestrained actions that conspicuously contravene international law. In this context, the existence of an avowed defiant country to international law, in this significant strategic region, has ominous repercussions for the regional and global actors with a stake in the peace and stability of the world. Besides, as the Ukraine war adequately demonstrates, any conflict doesn't remain limited to the geographical confines of a particular country and rather reverberates across the world. In this context, international and regional actors need to undertake decisive actions to dissuade the junta from its aggressive international behaviour and should restore a democratic government to ensure that the region doesn't slide into uncertainty in the future.


The writer is an international affairs researcher and pursuing her doctoral studies at National University of Singapore (NUS)