All losers in Myanmar’s democratic battle could collectively drive the nation to be the first failed state in Southeast Asia

Now it’s over 200days of the military coup having experienced in Myanmar. This is a very unprecedented moment in history. No durable solution. Nothing came out a positive result in sight. Senseless continued killings, tortures, arbitrary arrests and other forms of gross human rights violations has since been prevailing. The coup maker couldn’t handle the mounting COVID-19 cases, allowing civilians unnecessarily killed. In terms of public services delivery, everything has since been seriously chaotic: education, health, banking, jobs, food security and livelihoods, and everything. The first failed state in Southeast Asia has already been characterized in many dimensions – all the results of a man-made disaster in a modern world.

Why is Myanmar in a very recent democratic transition so quickly turning into a failed state in many instances? A simple answer is: there are many losers over this political game at this moment. First, huge information gap from the very beginning. The politicians especially those elected in 2020 elections and the Myanmar people didn’t have access to prior information about this coup. This is not mainly because they had certain weaknesses within, but mainly because they all had lack of this vital information over this coup. Such condition created a bitter barrier to do associated preparations in tackling with the coup. For instance, those members of parliaments elected in 2020 elections – majority are NLD members – didn’t know about this coup actually happening and in fact they had prepared for their first parliamentarian sessions to elect the new governments on the coup night of February 1, 2021. Meanwhile, during that time, it’s believed that the winning party leadership already understood about this coup to be happening advance and needed to prepare for next steps to go with: key political guidance way out – capitalizing the mandate of 2020 election votes granted by the people. The entire nation was shocked to hear the news about the coup – due to lack of prior information on it, let alone preparations to tackle with this tragedy. Consequently, lack of ‘plan B’ dealing with the brutal regime amidst such a fragile civil-military relationship became like replicating a Burmese proverb – A Sat Pin Yay Laung (in Burmese) – saying in English: ‘beware of watering the poisonous plant.’  The people of Myanmar have now faced with an unprepared battle.

In April 2021, National Unity Government (NUG) was formed by the CRPH who represented the elected members in 2020 elections. The NUG, while led by NLD, is becoming an inclusive government at some good degree – from inviting ethnic minorities, activists, youth leadership to changing the term “Rohingya” from “Bengali” in public appearances. This is all in a good shape to go with; however, it’s important to understand that NUG came out largely from ad hoc basis, not necessarily coming from senior NLD leadership’s guidance especially from its Chair Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Overall, political guidance was lacking in NUG to fight against the Tatmadaw. In this regard, how the Lady can understand about NUG and its overall apparatus remains to be seen. Lack of preparation to deal with this coup among the politicians (all concerned political parties) have shallowed NUG in many ways. Inclusive politics and innovative approach are in dire need for the Myanmar politics while unity among all stakeholders is very essential.

The Tatmadaw is obviously a serious loser in the battle in many aspects: power still not in hands, reputation shattered, recognition domestically and internationally no in sight, economic interests collapsed (boycotts on military products, sanctions, concerns of its economic infrastructures such as Mytel etc.,), and even potentially to face criminal charges at international stage in the end. The biggest mistake the Tatmadaw made was all about they don’t recognize that the situation in Myanmar cannot be replicated the way it did in the 1988 uprising. They thought that this battle is all about fighting against the NLD and its affiliates, but in fact they have to fight against the people of Myanmar and the world. In addition, they have to fight a modern technology such as social media and its political propaganda – though they don’t know how to deal with this battle. The most devastating mistake the Tatmadaw would make, if this is to go on, is that they don’t know their exit. It’s hard for the Tatmadaw both “to save the country” in its own terms (full power in hands) and to save itself. As of this writing, it’s believed that several Tatmadaw men[1] have been defected – further raising ‘red flag’ for its leadership itself.

EAOs are also losers in general not because whether they don’t fight for a democratic battle in a timely fashion, while some do, but because ingrained disunity among Myanmar’s 20 largest EAOs.[2] For instance, the most powerful EAO known as UWSA, backed by China, has been largely silent. Some EAOs such as KIA and KNU have fought and trained the PDFs, but they do have different interests and understandings – a long way to go for securing a political pact. Within KNU for instance, it’s still in struggle over whether still to go with NCA that has already broken or ensue the ongoing battle. In Rakhine, AA has largely been silent within its own interests – already assuming to control over the war-torn state by itself, and no need to fight for the moment. Having said that, there is no a single agreement yet for concrete actions among the EAOs in this coup battle. This situation has killed them as well in terms of their federal dream or self-determination by not seeing this condition being an opportunity to fight in unity. That also means, whether fight or not fight, EAOs are losing at this moment due to their disunity within.

The other obvious loser is China and also Russia in some instances. China’s economic, political, and strategic interests all depend on Myanmar’s stability. That stability can only be built by a democratic transition in Myanmar, not the other way around. China miscalculated about it. China made the same mistake like it did in 1988, supporting the military junta. Such support in 2021 makes China extremely nervous than ever before given the Chinese strategic interests such as Belt and Road Initiative such as Kyauphyu deep seaport project and safety of its strategic pipeline across Myanmar’s many states and regions[3] – and much more. China needs to change its own course in Myanmar’s affairs. The other international losers are ASEAN[4] and UN.[5] Despite the ASEAN special envoy appointment, ASEAN’s intervention would remain limited in politics but probably would work in ‘some humanitarian’ support area.[6] ASEAN itself thus needs to stand up with its own motto more than ever before in Myanmar case: one vision, one identity, one community.  In fact, there is no concrete action by both UN and ASEAN. Many see how malfunctioning such international organizations by a Myanmar case at least immediate terms. The other is the Western nations. This is not because they do nothing but because they don’t have any good leverage on Myanmar: economic, military, strategic and much more. What they can do is to watch the evolving situation, but no leverage to play in changing the course.

Those are the major reasons – why Myanmar is quickly turning into a failed state in character: every stakeholder has failed to do what they needed to deliver. What’s next then? It’s a time to figure out a decisive force to take over. Two important things for Myanmar political stakeholders to consider through. First, we all need to understand about Myanmar’s case is hard to sort out by international. Myanmar political stakeholders all quickly need to deliver something that works for the people of Myanmar, not themselves: their political interests must set aside to prevent Myanmar from collapsing in many ways. It’s a time do so before it’s too much late. Second, it’s believed, meanwhile, that every stakeholder mentioned above underestimates the role of the Myanmar youths[7] in this situation. In fact, this revolution has become very powerful due to active youths’ participation in it. Whether this revolution can go ahead is entirely subject to the youths in general. Many youths are also in PDFs[8] preparing to fight against the Tatmadaw forces. Their lives matter much more than before. Stakeholders need to recognize this, and let the youths play ‘political role’ for Myanmar’s decisive actions. It’s to rethink for all the political stakeholders how to save Myanmar, not by doing themselves, but by granting opportunity to “other” to take care. They are all enough for Myanmar’s politics.

Sithu Naing

The author, Sithu Naing as a pen name, is an analyst on Myanmar’s political economy and on governance areas in general.