Ye Aung THU / AFP
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her closest allies were detained early Monday morning in what is now clearly a military coup.
A state of emergency has also been declared for a year and the military has installed a former general as temporary president, arguing that questions over alleged election irregularities remain unresolved. The military said new elections would be held.
The events have shocked a country just emerging from decades of military rule but where the armed forces remain extremely powerful.
Here’s what we know so far about the dramatic events unfolding in the Southeast Asian country.
Who has been detained?
Aung San Suu Kyi, her close ally President Win Myint and other members of her party the National League for Democracy (NLD), were detained in early Monday raids in the sprawling capital just hours before the opening of parliament following elections in November.
NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt told Reuters that his colleagues had been “taken” and that he expected to be arrested.
“I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law,” he was quoted as saying.
He also described what was happening as a “coup” in a separate interview with AFP.
Hours later military-owned television announced a yearlong state of emergency, installing former general and current vice-president Myint Swe as president and deferring power to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Internet connections in parts of the country were also not functioning normally. VICE World News found it difficult to reach contributors in Yangon or Naypyitaw Monday morning.
Soldiers and military vehicles were seen in different cities, as well as a heavy security presence in key areas.
“We can’t go out because of the security around us,” a senior Myanmar official based in the capital told VICE World News. “We don’t have any information.”
Prominent Myanmar activists said the list of those detained was not limited to senior leaders.
“We woke up this morning to the coup. Everything has just started. I'm fine but friends I know have been arrested including prominent politicians, it's very worrying,” youth activist Thinzar Shunle Yi told VICE World News. “Phone lines and some television station channels are also down. We aren't sure what will come next.”
Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu also tweeted that some student and ethnic party leaders had been detained, though information was difficult to verify in the fast-moving developments.
What does this mean?
It is devastating for Myanmar, which had been ruled by a military junta from 1962 until 2010, when a quasi-civilian government took over, supposedly paving the way for democratic and economic reforms.
Aung San Suu Kyi won elections in a landslide in 2015, cementing some of those promises and hailing the start of a new democratic era. But the military still controlled 25 percent of seats in parliament because of a constitution it had drafted in 2008.
Though Suu Kyi stood by the military when they were accused of committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims in 2017, tensions between the two sides remained high over the role of the army in politics.
The NLD has consistently made clear it wants to amend the constitution and make changes. And the military has consistently refused to budge, claiming it is an essential part of security in a country awash with ethnic armed groups, a fraught peace process, and clashes with insurgents.
They still control three key ministries responsible for defense, immigration and home affairs.
It is still unclear why the military has gone this far, given how unpopular the development will be in a country with many raw memories about the dark days of dictatorship.
Myanmar historian and writer Thant Myint-U tweeted that he has a “sinking feeling” that no one will be able to control what comes next.
The United States and other governments condemned the power grab.
A White House spokeperson said in a statement that it “opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”
“We continue to affirm our strong support for Burma’s democratic institutions and, in coordination with our regional partners, urge the military and all other parties to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, and to release those detained today.”
The U.S. still refers to the country officially as Burma, which was its name until a military-backed government changed it to Myanmar in 1989. But in this statement it used them interchangeably, creating some confusion online.
Charles Santiago from the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a statement that the developments are “shocking and a slap in the face to every Myanmar citizen who went out to vote in November's elections.”
“The military must immediately and unconditionally release any of those arrested as part of the early morning round-up, send their tanks back to the barracks, and restore communication services."
To add to the chaos, Myanmar is still battling a second wave of coronavirus.
Why is this happening now?
It’s related to the most recent election in November.
The detentions happened hours before Myanmar lawmakers were due to take their seats in the opening of parliament, the first since Suu Kyi and her party won elections in a repeat landslide last year.
But unfounded allegations quickly emerged of widespread voter fraud and other claims by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which received only a few dozen seats out of hundreds of available positions (this does not count the 25 percent of seats handed over to military MPs).
“Unless this problem is resolved, it will obstruct the path to democracy and it must therefore be resolved according to the law,” the military said in a televised statement. “Therefore, the state of emergency is declared in accordance with article 417 of the 2008 constitution.”
The article, which comes from a charter drafted by the armed forces, gives the commander-in-chief power to take over if there arises a situation that threatens the “disintegration of the union.”
Rumors of a coup swirled in recent days when the powerful Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing weighed in on the dispute, military vehicles were seen on the streets of the commercial capital Yangon, and security was beefed up around the capital Naypyitaw, where parliament is located.
The United Nations, western governments, and Myanmar’s Buddhist leadership all released statements condemning the possibility of a power grab, and Min Aung Hlaing appeared to back off, saying his words had been taken out of context.
But the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw in Myanmar, released another statement on Sunday that stirred more fear, saying the foreign diplomatic missions should not be endorsing the election results “without understanding actual events.”
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.
Additional reporting by Heather Chen and Anthony Esguerra