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The Military Coup In Myanmar Continues To Unfold


Myanmar's military ruled that country for almost 50 years. In 2015, a democratic election brought Aung San Suu Kyi, who'd peacefully fought against military rule, to power. And then this week, the military took power back in a coup, and Suu Kyi has been detained.

Aaron Connelly is an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He's on the line with us from Singapore. Good morning, Aaron.

AARON CONNELLY: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Were there any warning signs this coup was coming?

CONNELLY: About a week ago, the military started to make threats that if the civilian government didn't take its issues with the November election - for which it had provided no evidence - more seriously, then it would consider taking power. It seemed to step back from that threat on a couple of occasions. And then on Monday morning, it arrested key civilian leaders. But it was really only about a week ago that most people in Myanmar and most Myanmar specialists overseas started to believe that the military was serious about taking back power.

KING: What is the military claiming happened in this election?

CONNELLY: They claim that there were irregularities with voter lists in the election, particularly in ethnic areas, and that if the election voter lists were scrutinized more closely, then - that they would have had a chance of winning more seats in the national legislature. But again, they haven't provided any evidence for those claims.

KING: OK, so you're skeptical of the claim that there was something wrong with the election. What's the relationship between Suu Kyi and the generals who now detained her?

CONNELLY: It's been a tetchy relationship over time. Of course, they detained her for many years from 1990 until 2011, releasing her on a couple of occasions. But then she appeared to be trying to build a more solid relationship with them after she took power in 2016 - at least control over the civilian government. The military maintained control over the three key ministries - the Ministry of Defense, Home Affairs, Border Affairs - and also all the security forces. At times, she appeared to be trying to build a working relationship with them. But ultimately that foundered when they refused to respect her ambitions, particularly to become president, which they had outlawed under the Constitution that they wrote in 2008.

KING: OK, so she lost the generals. Has she also lost the civilians? What do ordinary people there think of her?

CONNELLY: Well, she won the last election. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the last election in November in a landslide. She remains incredibly popular in Myanmar, and that's likely to continue. There's no change to that.

KING: What do you envision will happen over the next couple of days and weeks? Will there be any kind of push within the country or outside the country to release her, to end the coup, to give power back to people who've been democratically elected?

CONNELLY: It's still really unclear. There was one statement that was released on one of her Facebook pages yesterday that suggested that before she was detained, she had called people out onto the streets. But then there were other members of her party who said that that statement was inauthentic. There are some who would prefer to see street demonstrations against this. They believe that that might reverse the result of this coup. On the other hand, there are those who remember what happened in 1988 when people came out onto the streets following a military coup then. And hundreds, possibly thousands, of people died in the violence after the military sought to suppress those demonstrations.

KING: Myanmar was ruled by the military for decades. Is there a fear that the country could be headed back in that direction?

CONNELLY: Yeah, absolutely. The military says that it's only going to take back power for one year, and then it's going to hold elections and return power to a civilian government. But it might not necessarily adhere to that timeline. It believes that if it removes Aung San Suu Kyi from politics, that it can begin to win elections again, but it's not really clear that that's the case. And it's not clear that people will cooperate and participate in a semi-democratic system that excludes Aung San Suu Kyi or the National League for Democracy.

KING: What are the implications outside of Myanmar, in Southeast Asia more broadly?

CONNELLY: Well, yesterday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is the regional bloc in this region - I'm in Singapore - issued a statement calling for a return to what they said was normalcy. And a number of Southeast Asian diplomats have said to me on background that what they're looking for is a return to the status quo as of Sunday evening. That's a relatively strong statement for ASEAN. And the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on the situation later today. The U.K. is currently in the presidency of the Security Council and has tended to focus on Myanmar issues when it's held the presidency. So I would anticipate quite a bit of international pressure, both from within the region and around the globe, on the military to, at the very least, truncate the period in which it intends to hold power and perhaps to shape the nature of the government that would follow after the military hands back power.

KING: Aaron Connelly of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. Aaron, thanks for being with us.

CONNELLY: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.