Struggles And Resilience: On Myanmar’s Road To Democracy

The success of the coordinated offensives by opposition forces has drawn support from other rebel forces among the milieu of local groups opposed to the regime

Struggles And Resilience: On Myanmar’s Road To Democracy

In 1948, Burma, predominantly inhabited by the Burman ethnic groups, gained independence from British colonial rule. However, the journey toward democracy in the newly formed nation was fraught with challenges. In 1989, the ruling military junta brutally suppressed a pro-democracy uprising, coinciding with the decision to rename the country Myanmar, a change that resonates globally to this day. Since its inception, Myanmar has struggled to establish a stable civilian government. Aung San, revered as the "Father of the Nation" and founder of modern-day Myanmar and its armed forces, holds a significant place in the country's history. However, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar's military, has wielded considerable power throughout the nation's existence, often overshadowing civilian governance.

Insurgencies in Myanmar have persisted since the country gained independence. Primarily rooted in ethnic divisions, various ethnic armed groups have engaged in conflict with Myanmar's armed forces, Tatmadaw, seeking self-determination. The Tatmadaw, also referred to as the Grand Armed Forces, have wielded control over Myanmar under a military junta.

Looking into the history of the period of military rule in Myanmar, on 02 March 1962, General Ne Win, Chief of Staff of the Tatmadaw, orchestrated a swift and bloodless coup d'état, overthrowing the government led by Premier U Nu. From 1962 until 2011, the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) governed the country, sharing power with civilian administrations. Some democratic reforms were introduced by the military, initiating a transition back to civilian rule following the adoption of a new constitution in 2008. Despite these changes, issues such as torture, political executions, deaths in custody, displacement of populations, war crimes, persecution of Rohingya Muslims, and other atrocities, including the restriction of civic space and legal challenges, have persistently characterised Myanmar's governance.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a legendary figure in Myanmar's political landscape, is the younger daughter of the nation's founding father, Aung San. Aung San Suu Kyi played a pivotal role in Myanmar's politics, consistently opposing military rule throughout her entire political career and enduring significant periods of captivity, including spells in both jail and house arrest. In recognition by the world her unwavering dedication to political and democratic reform in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. However, despite symbolising her immense struggle against military rule and advocating for democracy in the country and rights for the people of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi faced allegations of biased political conduct towards the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar during her tenure, during which she shared power with the military.

The Muslim community in Myanmar comprises descendants of various ethnicities, including Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, sheikhs, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese Muslims, and Malays, who settled and intermarried with local Burmese populations and numerous ethnic groups such as the Rakhine, Shan, Karen, Mon, and others. The majority of Muslims, known as Rohingya, reside in the Rakhine State, located adjacent to the border with Bangladesh. Originally known as Arakanese at the time of independence, the state's name was changed to Rakhine in the 1990s. Situated on the western coast, Rakhine State is bordered by Chin State to the north, Magway Region, Bago Region, and Ayeyarwady Region to the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest.

The military junta's grip on power tightened further in February 2021 when it staged a coup, overturning the results of the 2020 general election and declaring a state of emergency. Subsequent crackdowns on dissent have led to widespread violence, arrests, and killings, drawing condemnation from the international community.

The junta security forces have carried out mass killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence and other abuses that amount to crimes against humanity. Freedom of speech and assembly face severe restrictions. Expanded military operations have resulted in numerous war crimes against ethnic minority populations in Kachin, Karen, Karenin, Rakhine, and Shan States. The military has also committed abuses including using “scorched earth” tactics, burning villages in Magway and Sagging regions. The Myanmar military has long defied international calls for accountability, including for atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. The junta’s ineptitude and mismanagement of the country’s economy since the coup has heightened the suffering of the population and entrenched a climate of fear and insecurity.

After a long struggle of freedom fighters’ movements, the latest phase of military conflict in Myanmar pitting rebel forces against the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) may herald a new political and security landscape in the war-torn Southeast Asian country. Since October 2023, three ethnic armed organisations under the banner of the Three Brotherhood Alliance have launched a coordinated offensive against the ruling military junta. Codenamed Operation 1027, the campaign has included the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Arakan Army, targeting Tatmadaw-controlled areas and military outposts.

The success of the coordinated offensive has drawn support from other rebel forces among the milieu of local groups opposed to the regime, with the People’s Defence Force and the Communist Party of Burma’s People’s Liberation Army stepping up their fight against the military Junta. In the recent development, different rebel forces have overrun junta outposts and captured large swathes of land, including several towns and border crossings with India and China.

Opposition fighters are hoping that their battle is succeeding against longstanding army rule in Myanmar. Recent developments have seen rebel forces, including the Three Brotherhood Alliance, launching coordinated offensives against the military junta. The success of these efforts, coupled with growing resistance from various local groups, signals a potential shift in Myanmar's political landscape.

Despite the challenges, the resilience of Myanmar's people in the face of adversity offers hope for a brighter future. The ongoing struggle against military rule is a product of long held  aspirations for democracy, justice, and peace in the country. As the nation continues to navigate its path forward, the international community must stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar in their quest for freedom and human rights.

The author is a Sydney-based journalist, a multicultural community representative, and the winner of the NSW Harmony Award in 2015.