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Myanmar's Military Stages Coup, Detains Aung San Suu Kyi

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The country of Myanmar is under military control again. After a coup deposed the government of former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the military claims massive election fraud that saw Suu Kyi's party win overwhelmingly in November's general election. Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The military says its state of emergency will only last a year. Moe Thuzar of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore isn't buying. She has a long memory and recalls a similar promise made by the military after a student-led uprising decades ago.

MOE THUZAR: I go back to 1988. The promise was to convene elections and hand over power to the party that won the elections. And we all know what happened in 1990.

SULLIVAN: What happened then, she says, was that Aung San Suu Kyi's party won convincingly, a victory the military then refused to recognize. But today, she insists, things are different than they were 30 years ago.

THUZAR: The global political and economic climate will just be very unfavorable for a military junta seeking to justify its actions, I think.

SULLIVAN: That's assuming the military cares.

DAVID MATHIESON: I think they probably calculated that they've got friends in the world that will be disappointed in them but will ultimately put their own self-interests to the fore and let them get away with it.

SULLIVAN: David Mathieson is a Yangon-based analyst reached in Thailand.

MATHIESON: The endgame, I think, is quite disturbing. I think it's them holding onto power indefinitely.

SULLIVAN: Mary Callahan, a Myanmar scholar at the University of Washington who is in the former capital, Yangon, isn't so sure.

MARY CALLAHAN: I don't even know if they have a plan.

SULLIVAN: But she says even without a plan...

CALLAHAN: This crisis was inevitable given the cohabitation that the 2008 Constitution imposed upon political and personal foes or enemies. So I'm not so shocked, to be honest.

SULLIVAN: That arrangement, she says, was created in part by the military-drafted Constitution that allowed it to retain control over several key ministries while guaranteeing the military a quarter of the seats in parliament - effective veto power. Despite this, Aung San Suu Kyi went to the International Court of Justice in 2019 to refute allegations of genocide by Myanmar's military against the Muslim minority Rohingya.

CALLAHAN: I think foreigners read too much into that. And that's what's being - that's what we're hearing over and over, which is that, you know, she went to bat for the military. But she went to bat for her country. I mean, she saw this ICJ case as an attack on her country.

SULLIVAN: And inevitable or not, Callahan says, this crisis couldn't have come at a worse time.

CALLAHAN: Myanmar's facing its greatest health threat since the Spanish flu of 1918. There's new outbreaks of fighting in places where there had not been violence in a decade. And now it has a national political crisis.

SULLIVAN: One she says that will not turn out well for the people of Myanmar.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.