The new Biden administration has its first new legitimate foreign-policy crisis, and it comes from a surprising place. Following several days of rumors, the military in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has seized power from the civilian government run by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. The same generals with whom she had an uneasy alliance declared a national emergency after an election which they claimed was rife with fraud.
A few years ago, Suu Kyi would have had enough international standing to instantly make her a cause celebre in capitals around the world. These days, however, she might find that her calls get answered with less enthusiasm:
Myanmar’s military staged a coup Monday and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — a sharp reversal of the significant, if uneven, progress toward democracy the Southeast Asian nation has made following five decades of military rule.
An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV said the military would take control of the country for one year. It said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The takeover came the morning the country’s new parliamentary session was to begin and follows days of concern that the military was plotting a coup. The military maintains its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi’s party spokesman as well as many international observers have said it amounts to a coup.