Myanmar military and its love for power 

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
Naypyitaw Published: Mar 23, 2021, 11:11 PM(IST)

Myanmar junta Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The military transferred power to civilians in 2011 but they never actually gave up their powers. The Myanmar military is the second largest standing army in the region after Vietnam. The constitution grants them seats in the parliament and a quarter of the budget is dedicated to their expenses

For 60 years, Myanmar has been ruled by the military. Six decades marked by crackdowns and suppression of dissent, the military has been responsible for Myanmar's woes in the past. 

Take the Rohingya crisis, for instance, the United Nations has described them as the world's most persecuted minority. More Than 740,000 Rohingya have fled the country since 2017. Their persecutors were the military, the same military that has now grabbed power in Myanmar. 

The allegations against them are serious. The Myanmar military burned down villages, massacred thousands and raped hundreds of Rohingya women. 

All of this has been recorded in testimonies by survivors. They describe the soldiers as ruthless plunderers. It is easy to blame the foot soldiers for these crimes but it was the senior commanders, who gave the orders. Brigadiers and generals have wanted villages burnt and mass graves dug. The army has sanctioned a genocide. This is the power of the Myanmar army that even the civilian government backed them. Remember, Aung Saan Su Kyi's defence at the international court. 

It was her effort to defend the military to earn their goodwill but the army seems unwilling to reciprocate. They have ousted Suu Kyi and charged her with multiple crimes. It is a lesson for leaders around the world, military regimes have their own interests and public interest rarely features in it. 

The military transferred power to civilians in 2011 but they never actually gave up their powers. The Myanmar military is the second largest standing army in the region after Vietnam. The constitution grants them seats in the parliament and a quarter of the budget is dedicated to their expenses.  

Politically and economically, they're a force to reckon with and we're seeing evidence of it right now. Massive protests and anti-coup demonstrations but the military is unmoved. The protests continue and so does the crackdown. The military's brutal clamp down has triggered another exodus. This time, across the border to India. Protesters are fleeing the ruthless security forces. 

They are escaping illegal detention. This includes cops, who are unwilling to carry out the junta's orders. They say, they were asked to beat, arrest and torture the anti-coup protesters. This has put neighbouring countries including India in a spot. They are being forced to welcome refugees in the middle of a pandemic. The world response has been limited to statements and sanctions. Both of which have proven ineffective so far. 

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions. They are targeting the junta leader and his family but sanctions aren't new for Myanmar's military. Most of their leaders were sanctioned during the Rohingya crackdown. This may have nudged them towards partial reforms but they continued to hold an iron grip over the country.  

So, what are the army's motives? Why do they continue to sabotage civilian governments? Here's the first thing you need to know about Myanmar's military. They have strong views on religion, politics and economy. 

The army is dominated by Burmese speaking Buddhists. They advocate majoritarian nationalism. This explains the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and senior officers double up as businessmen. 

They own stakes in lucrative ventures and have used their political power to fill their pockets. A civilian government could possibly investigate these discrepancies. So, the army never let go of control. There's a reason most countries opt for division of powers. There's a reason, they keep armies under civilian control. At the end of the day, it's about culture.  

Once the army gets a taste of political and economic power, they refuse to let go. We've seen this in Pakistan over the years, Myanmar is no different. As they say, a thinking soldier is an asset and a plotting soldier is a threat. 

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