Myanmar Update – 15 February 2021

Situation Report
Originally published
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  • The Myanmar coup will likely lead to escalating civil resistance and a consequent heavy-handed military response.

  • The military will continue to expand control over the internet – leading to frequent “blackouts”.

  • Monitoring the human rights situation as well as providing aid and development support will become increasingly difficult in the months ahead.

Background to the November 2020 Elections

Myanmar experienced five years of relative political stability after the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) handed power to State Counsellor (a position roughly analogous to Prime Minister) Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) following the November 2015 elections – which ended almost 50 years of military rule. Even then, however, the Tatmadaw retained substantial power, including the right to appoint a quarter of parliamentarians and control of key ministries.

Elections to both Myanmar’s upper house - Amyotha Hluttaw - and lower house - Pyithu Hluttaw - took place on 8 November 2020. Suu Kyi’s NLD won a popular landslide, taking 161 (of the 224) seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw and 315 (of the 440) in the Pyithu Hluttaw, an even larger margin than in 2015. This equated to 83% of the available seats, while the Tatmadaw’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), won a total of just 33 seats. The USDP immediately began making accusations of fraud after the vote although the Union Election Commission said there was no proof to support these claims and there has been little or no independent evidence either.

The Tatmadaw also disputed the results, claiming that the vote was fraudulent, perhaps fearing that the NLD, with its majority, would amend the constitution to reduce the Tatmadaw’s political influence – a longstanding NLD campaign pledge. However, the NLD would have been unlikely in practice to do so as it would have required the support of 75% of the parliament – i.e., all the non-military parliamentarians.

There is also evidence that the Tatmadaw feared greater opening-up of the country and viewed the timing – with the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority either expelled or disenfranchised and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting global action on other issues – as opportune. Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing may also have feared that his lack of a clear role as a political leader could have exposed him to potential prosecution and accountability for alleged war crimes during the Rohingya conflict.