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Myanmar Political Security – Dynamic Challenges

The political situation in Myanmar has turned complex after the military coup on February 01 this year. The military led State Administrative Council (SAC) which took power with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as the head of state and government announced the formation of a caretaker government in August.

A parallel government – National Unity Government (NUG) was announced in April largely by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government which was led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and their ethnic allies. The NUG has now given a call for armed struggle.

Restructuring Political Structure

The military led Caretaker Administration plans to overhaul the electoral system going in for a form of Proportional Representation (PR). In accordance with the country’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, Myanmar currently uses First Past the Post (FPTP), a system in which the candidate who receives the most votes are the winner of the parliamentary seat in question. Armed Forces Chief and self appointed prime minister Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that the PR system would be “all-inclusive” and allow for constituents’ voices to be better represented.

The military controlled Union Election Commission (UEC) has announced plans to audit the financial records of Myanmar’s political parties, a move that has been met with fierce criticism.

The UEC, which officially annulled the results of last year’s election in July, has ordered parties to prepare their financial records for inspection, in what some suspect will be used as a pretext by the junta to disband certain parties. The commission has not yet set a date for the audit.

The caretaker government has enacted a law against genocide, which opponents of the coup regime say may be used to against resistance fighters launching guerilla attacks against the Myanmar military and its supporters.

The promulgation of the new genocide law coincided with an online campaign to mark the fourth anniversary of atrocities against the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim people in Rakhine State, in 2017.

Suu Kyi Trial & NUG

In parallel a trial is ongoing of deposed State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President U Win Myint which is seen as a farce on trumped up charges, but has implications in terms of discrediting them in the public eye using the law book.

NUG has announced a declaration of war and hopes that the international community would back the NUG’s declaration of war on the country’s military regime, as it was a necessary step. However there is not likely to be much support for the same with international community in general seeking a peaceful solution.

The challenge for the National Unity Government (NUG) formed in parallel to the caretaker one by the military junta is of international and regional legitimacy as well as the need to justify the violence and its acceptance against the Rohingya in the past.

Covering up wrongdoing in the name of unity and as a strategy when injustices were perpetrated against the Rohingya in the past and were accepted by NUG members who were then part of the NLD has only provided the military a shield behind which to operate in the hope that it will be able to bring about a change in the uniform.

Acting President Duwa Lashila call on citizens to “revolt against the rule of military terrorists led by [coup leader] Min Aung Hlaing in every corner of the country,” he also believed that countries will support the NUG stand. “I believe that our neighboring countries, ASEAN countries, the United Nations and all other countries in the world understand that we do it out of necessity based on the country’s current situation,” he said in a speech.

Future Imperfect

The military led Caretaker Government plans to restructure politics in the country to facilitate dominance by parties which owe allegiance to the armed forces. These parties will be either those run by retired Senior Generals or are malleable to the dictat of the military. How this pans out remains to be seen?

Sidelining the NLD and Aung Suu Kyi in particular is also an objective. However NLD has seen emergence of alternate leadership which is evident in the NUG, thus in future Aung Suu Kyi may not be vital for survival of the Party.

Economic Security – Long Term Challenges, Short Term Distress

As per the Word Bank July Update, Myanmar’s ongoing political turmoil and a rapidly-rising third wave of COVID-19 cases are severely impacting an economy. This comes ahead of the weakening caused by the pandemic in 2020.

The economy is expected to contract around 18 percent in Myanmar’s 2021 Fiscal Year (Oct 2020-Sep 2021), with damaging implications for lives, livelihoods, poverty and future growth, according to the World Bank’s Myanmar Economic Monitor.

An 18 percent contraction, coming on top of weak growth in FY2020, would mean that the country’s economy is around 30 percent smaller than it would have been in the absence of COVID-19 and the military takeover of February 2021.

Around 1 million jobs could be lost, and many other workers will experience a decline in their incomes due to reduced hours or wages. The share of Myanmar’s population living in poverty is likely to more than double by the beginning of 2022, compared to 2019 levels.

“The loss of jobs and income and heightened health and food security risks are compounding the welfare challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable, including those that were already hit hardest by the pandemic last year,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR.

The World Bank States, that “Economic activity has been hit by reduced mobility and incomes, protests and labor shortages, as well as the ongoing disruption of critical business services, including logistics and telecommunications, and public services such as health and education.

Despite bank branch re-openings and several interventions from the Central Bank of Myanmar, physical currency continues to be in short supply and access to banking and payment services remains limited.

As of mid-July, the Myanmar kyat had depreciated by around 23 percent against the US dollar since late January, which combined with trade disruptions has led to rapid price increases for some imported products, including fuel. Farmers have been affected by lower wholesale prices for some crops, higher input prices, and limited access to credit”.

Taken together, these shocks have weakened consumption, investment, and trade, and disrupted businesses’ operations and the supply of labor and inputs.

“While there were initial signs of stabilization in some areas in May and June, with mobility improving and logistics disruptions easing, overall economic activity remained very weak and a further contraction is likely from July onwards due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Kim Alan Edwards, World Bank Senior Economist for Myanmar.

The current third wave of COVID-19 is posing an immediate threat to lives, livelihoods, and the economy, especially given the lack of capacity in the public health system to adequately respond. While testing rates remain limited, extremely high positivity rates among those who have been tested indicate widespread community transmission. Combined with the impact of containment measures and precautionary behavior, this will amplify Myanmar’s economic challenges.

Over the longer term, recent events have the potential to jeopardize much of the development progress that has been made over the past decade. Significant impacts on investment, human capital accumulation, and the environment for doing business are likely to impair prospects for economic growth over the longer term says the World Bank.

Internal Security – Complex Challenges

The internal security situation in Myanmar is highly contested. Multiple forces are ranged against the principal adversary the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar military. Principle amongst the military are the ethnic groups which have been fighting a long term insurgency against unitary governance in the country.

The Civil Disobedience Movement took a cue from protests in Hong Kong against Chinese imposition of authoritarian administration while in parallel People’s Defence Force (PDF) were formed in multiple states and regions across the country’s periphery. A shadow government the National Unity Government (NUG) has been formed which has also openly raised a call to arms against the Tatmadaw.

In a speech to the country on Sept. 7, the NUG’s acting president, Duwa Lashi La, urged anyone serving under the regime including soldiers and police to leave their jobs, while calling on all citizens to revolt against the rule of the “military terrorists” led by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing in every corner of the country.

A number of People’s Defence Forces (PDF) have been formed in various states and regions with the Chin Defence Force one of the strongest and is fighting in the Chin state bordering India. 30 junta police officers and soldiers in Chin State have joined the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

350 junta police and 21 soldiers have gone on strike against military rule in Chin State since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), which consists of ethnic Chin civilian armed forces across the state.

This has only attenuated security situation in the country where multiple ethnic groups are already engaged in armed conflict with the central government for a federation rather than the unified construct of the state at present.

The military has responded to these developments by using overwhelming force and in the past seven months, the military regime led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has, as of Sept. 10, arrested 8,013 people of whom 6,364 remain in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The regime has also brutally killed 1,062 dissidents, anti-regime protesters, students and rights activists, doctors and nurses, and even poets. Some of them were arbitrarily killed a few hours after being arrested at their homes or hideouts.

A number of ethnic armed organisations such as the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have joined forces with the PDF to attack the military. These have been fairly successful and have led to large number of casualties to the armed forces.

The Military on the other hand has been able to muster support from some of the ethnic militia such as the Pa-O National Army (PNA).

The conflict between the Rohingya and the state with the formation of organisations such as ARSA by the latter which have indulged in violence in the past is another track of violence.

Resolution of internal security challenges in Myanmar is unlikely in the short term, even though there has been an outcry by the NUG’s call for violence by the international community. Thus a long violent impasse is expected in the near future.


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