On February 1st, the military of Myanmar staged a coup and took control of the country. They arrested elected leaders including the famous Aung San Suu Kyi, and there are worries they will damage Myanmar’s democracy! In this episode we’ll look at what happened, why it happened, and what will happen in the future!

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Independence (n) – freedom from being governed or ruled by another country

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821

Coup (n) – (or a coup d’etat) a sudden illegal, often violent, taking of government power, especially by part of an army

The military took control in a coup!

To restore (v) – to return something or someone to an earlier good condition or position

After a week in bed, she was fully restored to health

Allegation (n) – a statement, made without giving proof, that someone has done something wrong or illegal

Allegations the president was receiving money from criminals have caused a scandal

To file (v) – to officially record something, especially in a law court

The police filed charges against the two suspects

Fraudulent (adj) – dishonest and illegal; or intended to deceive

The company was fined for fraudulent advertising

To threaten (v) – to tell someone that you will hurt or harm him or her, esp. if the person does not do something in particular

They threatened to drop him from the team if he didn’t come to practice

Straightforward (adj) – easy to understand or simple

Just follow the signs to London – it’s very straightforward!

Sanction (n) – an official order, such as the stopping of trade, that is taken against a country in order to make it obey international law

Many nations have imposed sanctions on the country because of its attacks on its own people

Earlier this week, the South East Asian country of Myanmar became headline news around the world! On February 1st, the military of Myanmar, also known as Burma, took full control of the government after arresting that nation’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD). In this episode we will look at what is happening in Myanmar, why it happened, and what the future holds for the country. 

Before that, I think it is useful to have some background information. Myanmar is in South East Asia and neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India. It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom are Burmese speakers, although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw. The national religion is Buddhism, and there are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. From 1962 it was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi began to introduce civilian rule and democracy. 

Interestingly, the country has two different commonly used names; Burma and Myanmar. It was called Burma for many years, after its majority ethnic group. However, the ruling military changed its name in English to Myanmar in 1989. In the Burmese language, Myanmar is actually the more formal version of the word Burma. Some countries, including the UK, initially refused to use the new name as a way of protesting against the military regime. As the country moved towards democracy, the use of “Myanmar” became increasingly common, although the US still uses Burma.

What happened on February 1st? In the simplest of terms, the military of Myanmar is now back in charge of the country. The armed forces were in complete control of the country for over 50 years until 2011. Early in the morning on February 1st, the country launched a coup against the nation’s most popular political party and the former Nobel Peace Prize winner 

who leads it. Aung San Suu Kyi became world-famous in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy to Myanmar, and because of this she spent many years in detention after calling for reform and free elections. In fact, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 2015, she led the NLD to victory in Myanmar’s first open election in 25 years. However, Ms Suu Kyi’s international reputation has suffered enormously due to Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority. The country considers them to be illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship. 

Many senior government officials have been arrested and their locations are currently unknown. The military then announced on TV that it would stay in power for one year. It’s unknown what will happen after 12 months, though many experts suspect the military will stay in charge beyond that. It took control following a general election which Ms Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide. The armed forces had supported the opposition, and demanded a rerun of the vote after the loss because of what they called “widespread fraud.” However, after the election commission said there was no evidence to support their allegations, the military staged the coup before the parliament could reopen! Several charges have been filed against Ms Suu Kyi, including breaking import and export laws and possession of unlawful communication devices. Many other NLD officials have also been detained. Power has now been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, who has long held significant political influence, and successfully maintained power over Myanmar’s military, even as the country moved towards democracy. The military has also replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs.

Why did the coup happen? Well, there have been signs for a while! I’ve already mentioned the coup was in reaction to the election. The military immediately claimed that the elections were fraudulent, and they demanded a new military-supervised election. They actually filed over 200 complaints and took the case to the supreme court (Does this remind you of another recent situation… maybe Donald Trump)! The military then threatened to “take action” if they weren’t listened to! The new parliament was supposed to begin this week, and the first action would be to confirm the election results, so the military finally “took action!”

This looks quite straightforward at first sight! Aung San Suu Kyi and her party were getting more and more popular, and this was giving them increasing power. Instead of letting this happen and allowing the pro-democracy movement to get stronger, the military stopped it before they lost all of their influence! This is probably the main reason, but there could be some other factors behind their decision. For instance, Myanmar’s constitution was written in 2008 while they were still under military control. However, in recent years, Ms Suu Kyi and her allies have used the constitution to limit the influence of the military. By taking over the country through a coup, the military can write a new constitution which will give them power and weaken democracy!

Another factor is that the military could have been surprised how successful and popular Suu Kyi is! Armed forces in Myanmar normally live away from normal citizens, and have their own schools, hospitals, and TV stations! They might have not believed that the opposition was actually popular. The leaders of the military also believe that they belong to a highly respected and loved organization – the fact they lost the election probably insulted them and frustrated them!

What will happen in the future? I don’t think anybody knows the answer to this. The military will keep control of the country for at least a year, and it seems likely they will try to keep control for longer. They will also try to rewrite the constitution and Myanmar’s political system! Aung San Suu Kyi and her political allies could be imprisoned for their accused “crimes.” The last time Myanmar was controlled by the military, many countries and international organisations had large sanctions on the country; the US has already suggested they will reintroduce  these sanctions. Perhaps we will return completely to the pre-2011 era: with the pro-democracy movement weakened and its leaders detained, and the military in full control of the country but under international sanctions.

Final Thought

Today’s episode has a lot of information. Hopefully I’ve explained the situation clearly and in understandable English. However, there has been quite a lot of political language – so I really recommend listening again or searching for articles yourself! The situation in Myanmar has been in the news all week and i guess it will continue over the next few months. The country has undergone a coup and the military is now in charge. Many of the country’s leaders have also been arrested. What will happen next is a complete guess! What do you think will happen in the future? Has this news been reported in your country? Why do you think the military is anti-democracy? 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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