What Do I Know About Myanmar?

In December 2020, for my final paper in Comparative Politics course, I wrote an Op-Ed research essay about Myanmar entitled, “We Can’t Rush Democracy: Myanmar Needs More Time.”  In the essay, I noted the country’s complex political history, throughout its decades of independence, Myanmar has struggled with military rule, civil war, isolation from global affairs, and widespread poverty. I applauded positive changes that happened from 2011 to 2015 when activists and advocates for democracy were released from jail, independent newspapers were allowed to operate, and state violence against protesters declined and most importantly, Aung San Suu Kyi was discharged from house arrest. However, I argued that while the people of Myanmar used democratic infrastructure to end the military -backed ruling regime, we must not forget that since 2017 hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya have risked their lives to escape from a deadly crackdown carried out by the Myanmar’s army. To date, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed, and millions felt compelled to leave their country.

The elections in 2015 and 2020 marked a significant progress toward democracy allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to slowly making progresses towards political freedom. However, I did not expect Myanmar’s newly gained democratic infrastructure to end so abruptly with another successful coup led by the military. I am saddened by the ongoing bloody conflict in the country. Civilians were killed and many others were severely injured because the Military forces opened fire on the crowd of a peaceful protest. To date, hundreds of people are being arrested and beaten in broad daylight while children witness their parents being taken away in the middle of the night from their own home.

Myat Thu Kyaw/NurPhoto via Getty Image

What can I do? What can the world do to this injustice? How can I not feel the pain of the Burmese people who are so courageous to protest and demand democratic representation despite the danger to themselves? I struggle to accept this, especially after all these years living in the U.S. and studying world politics. When a bloody conflict happens in a weak state like Myanmar, I find myself longing for outside help from the International Organization such as the UN. I struggled to use the knowledge I gained in a course on the UN’s structures during my winter break, so I reached out to my professor and she said it bluntly, “With the UN Security Council unwilling to take decisive action due to veto threats from Russia and China,  I think in the UN context it falls on the Secretary General to try to mobilize some sort of response, which he is attempting to do.”

Learning about democracy from the Western viewpoint, I noticed the core elements of democracy are fair and competitive elections with citizens free to exercise their civil and political rights. It is very challenging to deepen democracy, but it is not the most difficult task in the West because of its long history of independence, its robust constitutional legal framework, and its established democratic institutions. The people of Myanmar enjoyed a very short democratic system but today they are severely suffered by a democratic setback. While I am hoping to see outside helps, I am keeping the Burmese freedom fighters in my heart. For those who read this post, I hope you will continue counting your blessings for being able to live in a democratic country and maybe ask yourself, in your power, what can you do to help? 

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