Myanmar 2022: Jockeying for Advantage, Escalation of Violence
Eleven months after the February 01, military coup with took over reins of power by deposing the National League of Democracy (NLD) which after a spectacular electoral success in the November 08, 2020 polls in the country, the situation has deteriorated to an extent that saw no hopes for reconciliation between the opposing sides.
While the military through sheer force of arms had assumed control of governance in the country on February 01, administering has turned out to be disastrous with virtual collapse of state institutions due to targeted attacks by a civil disobedience movement followed by armed attacks by people’s defence forces that have been organised across the country.
The economy is collapsing with foreign investors pulling out of the country and sanctions from the West.
The international community – ASEAN being the most influential stakeholder with Myanmar being a member of the ten-nation group in South East Asia has failed to find a way out. The West – the United States and Europe has adopted the familiar route of sanctions on the military and the economy, which is in turn controlled by the armed forces.
China and Russia are the bulwark for the Myanmar military junta bailing it out in varied international forums, including the UN Security Council.
India a close neighbour has sent the Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the first visit to Myanmar on 22 and 23 December with varied diplomatic, security and political challenges with a long border and insurgent groups holed up across it
Given these developments in 2021, the trends ahead in 2022 appear to denote continued instability and escalation of violence, outlined as given below-
Myanmar Political Trends 2022
The State Administration Council (SAC) led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as the prime minister will move on three tracks of consolidation of the military hold overpower, rework the Constitution to undermine the democratic forces as the NLD while simultaneously undermine leaders of the Party particularly Aung San Suu Kyi through what are expected to be staged trials. The ousted State Counsellor and former President Win Myint face a series of charges, including vague ones such as possessing illegally imported walkie-talkies charged under the Export and Import Law and the Telecommunications Law. The two have already been sentenced to four years imprisonment for charges as inciting violence and non observation of COVID 19 restrictions.
She leads over 50 elected leaders and top officials who face charges and are certain to be awarded lengthy terms of imprisonment in 2022.
To undermine opponents, the instrument of the judiciary is also likely to be used to coerce anti-coup activists sentencing them to death.
Meanwhile opposition National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) which is the core body of the National Unity Government (NUG) is expected to expand the alliance against Myanmar’s junta to include more ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), and other anti-regime groups beyond the eight EAOs and political parties.
To sustain the opposition, the NUG is expected to seek funds from the public on the lines of the bond sale in 2021, wherein it managed to sell over US$6 million (10.7 billion kyats) worth of bonds in less than 12 hours.
Meanwhile, the SAC is attempting to tweak the Constitution to provide for Proportional Representation with the help of military leaning parties as the Union Solidarity Democratic Party (USDP).
Security Trends 2022
Violence with the ethnic groups and the large number of People’s Defence Forces is expected to escalate in 2022. This is because the PDF cadres mainly youth in normal non military occupations who have taken up arms are likely to improve their potential for disruption. The PDF are being trained by the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) who have decades of experience of fighting the Myanmar Army. On the other hand, Myanmar’s military rulers are confident they can wipe out armed civilian resistance. In November Vice Senior General Soe Win was ordered to launch a military campaign in the North in the Chin and Sagaing areas, issued an order to “find out and take action against the insurgents and PDF immediately” and “arrest all the people from their hideouts in villages.” In December Lt-Gen Aung Soe another hard-line general has been made responsible for operations in Lay Kay Kaw in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township, where the junta troops have suffered heavy casualties.
The escalation of violence is seen in areas around Yangon, Sagaing and Magwe regions, and Chin and Kayah states, where months of hit-and-run attacks and ambushes by PDFs have inflicted significant casualties on the junta’s troops. The military is literally using scorched earth policy. Now how the two-pronged counter-offensive of the Myanmar Army fares in 2022 remains to be seen?
Karen National Union (KNU) has organized training for the PDF in areas under the group’s control in the southern part of the country as per a report in the Irrawaddy. Similar support is being provided in other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, fighting with the ethnic groups has also escalated with the military using two newly acquired Su-30 fighter jets from Russia against Kachin Independence Army (KIA) targets. Fighting has also been reported with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)
The Myanmar junta’s peace negotiation committee attempted to meet with representatives of six ethnic armed groups based in the country’s north, with the help of China how far there will be a reconciliation in 2022 remains to be seen?
State of Military
The military has suffered its heaviest losses yet in October, with 1,300 soldiers killed and 463 injured in clashes with the PDF as per the shadow NUG Defense Ministry, many defections have also been reported. More than 2,000 soldiers and 6,000 police officers have now joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against the junta since the February 1 coup, according to a group helping defectors. Pyi Thu Yin Khwin, or People’s Embrace and expected that numbers would continue to grow in the coming months in 2022. Resistance forces in Karenni and Chin have offered cash rewards to soldiers and police who defect. The question of whether defections can bring down the Myanmar Army has been raised from time to time after the military coup in February this year. In 2022 however, large-scale fractures and unit-level mutinies are not anticipated despite the defections.
Economic Trends 2022
Myanmar's economy is forecast to shrink by 18.4% in 2021, according to the Asian Development Bank, the trend is expected to continue in 2022.
The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the military takeover have sent Myanmar into a downward spiral into poverty, according to the United Nations, with nearly half of the country’s more than 54 million people expected to be poor by early next year as per a report by the UNDP.
Meanwhile the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) sold more than US$6 million (10.7 billion kyats) worth of bonds in less than 12 hours. The bonds are valued at $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000 and were an indication of support to masses to the opposition movement. The bonds were sold with a view to raise funds for the resistance movement.
As investors move out of the country and sanctions reduce the economy into a downslide, the junta may be increasingly forced to look at China for a bailout, how Beijing responds in 2022 when it has its own economic challenges remains to be seen?
International and Regional Relations 2022
In 2022, the military-led SAC is expected to be shunned by the international and regional community. One small hope is a visit planned by the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in January 2022 at the invitation of its regime leader on Jan. 7 and 8. However, whether this move will bring about an outreach towards the junta by the ASEAN remains to be seen as the Cambodian Prime Minister has limited weight in the group even though his country is holding the chair for 2022. Meanwhile continuing shunning of the SAC by the international community in 2022. SAC Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was excluded from the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on Nov. 25, 2021, marking the third time he has been sidelined from an international summit in two months. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was also barred from attending the China-ASEAN Summit on Nov. 22 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as per the Myanmar Echo. This comes after exclusion from an ASEAN summit after he failed to implement the regional bloc’s five-point consensus. China insisted that they want to invite Min Aung Hlaing to the annual China-ASEAN summit but the regional grouping objected. These are clear indicators of the way ahead.
Myanmar’s transition to democracy after a long period of military rule commenced in 2008 with the adoption of a Constitution that reduced the role of the military in the parliament to 25 % of the members and introduced three ministries from the armed forces which were essentially security portfolios. Two elections later the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide success in the 2020 November 8, multi parliamentary elections which was rejected by the military seeing its role being circumscribed and it resorted to the familiar route of usurping power by force on February 01 with expectations of a token resistance at the political level. The slow and steady transition of the country where aspirations of the people at large towards freedoms was hardly appreciated, nor the willingness to sacrifice their lives for the cause of democracy. Thus a civil war-like situation prevails in Myanmar with the military unable to manage the fallout of public arming and the expectations of continued violence in 2022 denotes peace and stability may be some way away.