2 Years of Iron-Fisted Rule Worsens Political, Economic Turmoil

Pushing ahead with elections amid continued suppression of democratic elements and ethnic minorities cannot legitimize the regime, nor will it resolve internal chaos or end international isolation. The Myanmar military should recognize this.

Feb. 1 marks two years since the military overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup. During this period, about 2,800 people were killed in military and police crackdowns, and some pro-democracy forces have engaged in an armed struggle in close cooperation with ethnic minorities.

The escalation of fighting has resulted in more than 1 million people being displaced in the country. Western nations have imposed sanctions on the military, and many foreign companies have pulled out. The country once called “Asia’s last frontier” has lost its momentum for economic growth.

The military has declared a state of emergency and seized power. It reportedly plans to hold general elections within the next six months in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

The military claims it will hold “free and fair elections,” but the elections will be unconvincing as the election system is set up so that a political party close to the military can easily become a majority force. In addition, to what extent will eligible voters go to the polls in a state of disorder verging on civil war? The pro-democracy groups have indicated that they will boycott the elections.

The foremost preconditions for free and fair elections are the release of Suu Kyi and the guarantee of political activities.

Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and charged with a series of crimes, including violation of the official secrets law. The sentences, finalized at the end of last year, total 33 years in prison, which is tantamount to a life sentence for the 77-year-old Suu Kyi.

The sentences, handed down in secret trials over which the military has a strong influence, have no legitimacy and are strongly condemned by the international community.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution late last year calling for Suu Kyi’s immediate release and a halt to the military violence. Even permanent members Russia and China, which are supporters of the military, did not veto the resolution, although they did abstain from voting on it.

This is reportedly the first time a Security Council resolution has been adopted over the situation in Myanmar. China and Russia were believed to have refrained from using their vetoes because the resolution did not include sanctions against the military. However, it is significant that the release of Suu Kyi and the cessation of violence have thus been imposed on the military as obligations under international law.

With current global attention focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, interest in Myanmar has tended to wane. However, preventing the violent seizure of power and suppression of human rights is a challenge shared by the international community. Leaving the issue unattended would be completely unacceptable.

As an Asian member of the Security Council, Japan must play a leading role in taking steps, such as drafting a sanctions resolution if the situation in Myanmar does not improve. Japan’s economic assistance to Myanmar should also be reviewed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2023)