Two-thirds of a year after the military seized power in a coup, government mismanagement has made life in Myanmar worse by nearly every metric, but the junta has shown little interest in stepping down and observers say that without a stronger global response the country could be heading for ruin.
Friday marks the eighth month of junta rule in Myanmar, which had enjoyed a decade-long experiment with democracy until Feb. 1, when the military overthrew the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government by claiming the party had stolen the country’s November 2020 ballot through voter fraud.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,146 people and arresting 6,921 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
In addition to the country’s spiraling political crisis, an ongoing coronavirus outbreak—hampered by arrests of medical professionals engaged in the anti-coup Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)—has seen at least 17,682 people die from COVID-19, with more than 462,000 people infected since the start of the pandemic.
On Sept. 7, the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for open rebellion against junta rule, prompting an escalation of attacks on military targets by various allied pro-democracy militias and ethnic armed groups. The number of civilians displaced by the violence numbers in the hundreds of thousands and aid workers face a humanitarian crisis.
The instability has caused investors to flee the country, pumping already high unemployment rates and prompting a lack of confidence that has sent the value of the kyat into a freefall. The official U.S. dollar exchange rate rose Thursday to around 1,980 kyats, down from 1,330 on Feb. 1, while the black-market rate climbed to 2,500 kyats. The cost of a tical of gold (0.578 ounces) has soared to 2 million kyats, up from 1.3 million on the day of the coup.
Lines have formed at banks around the nation as people race to withdraw their savings, and inflation has sent the cost of daily necessities soaring to an all-time high. The country’s largest border trade zone, Muse, has closed its gates with China, while border gates with other neighboring countries remain shuttered. Imported goods are costly and largely unattainable to the public.
Myanmar’s GDP is projected to fall by negative 18.4 percent in 2021, according to the latest report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Global response muted
Despite its failure to lead, the junta has found support from Russia and China, and while the governments of Western nations have leveled sanctions against the military over its violent repression of protesters, the NUG told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the international community has largely left the people of Myanmar to fend for themselves.
“Since the military took over, innocent people have been brutally suppressed and their homes destroyed. Thousands of people have become helpless because of the brutalities,” said Naing Htoo Aung, permanent secretary at the NUG Ministry of Defense.
“The NUG has called on the international community to respond effectively to these issues, but no effective international action has come, and the atrocities of the military are getting worse. That is why both the people and the NUG had no other alternative but to start a war in self-defense, instead of waiting for the international community to act.”
He said a combination of international pressure and self-reliance are key to resolving Myanmar’s current crisis.
“We are working hard to bring international pressure [on the junta], but at the same time the struggle of those at home is crucial,” he said.
“Foreign pressure can make the people’s struggle stronger, but we all need to understand that real power must be demonstrated at home.”
In April, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders agreed to a “five-point consensus” that would see the junta end violence in the country and enter into dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis, however few measures have been implemented and the military has instead ramped up a crackdown on its opponents.
Locked in a stalemate
Ye Tun, a political analyst, said he fears the people of Myanmar will be the ones to suffer while the junta and NUG remain locked in a stalemate.
“One side thinks it has full public support and the world is behind it, while the other believes that it can defeat the opposition and control the state with the strength of the armed forces,” he said.
“Neither wants to hear about talks or negotiations.”
Ye Tun said he believes that if the two sides allow mediators to approach with a solution, a positive result could be found.
However, dialogue has proved unsuccessful in recent decades between vying stakeholders in Myanmar, and many now believe that the people themselves must act if they hope to end military rule.
“We cannot rely on anyone to put an end to the situation of our people and our country,” a resident of Yangon’s North Dagon township told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We called out for international help, but our calls have been met with empty statements. Nothing works. So many people have died, and thousands are homeless. We can no longer sit and wait for others to help us with our problems. We must fight it out ourselves.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.