If you have heard a clanging of pots in the distance over the past few days it was probably the Myanmar people protesting against the military junta.
As The Economist notes this week, the generals have inadvertently created the conditions for a united opposition bringing together the majority Burmans with the diverse minority ethnicities, and perhaps hastening the eviction of the military from power.
In a desperate, and so far unsuccessful, attempt to gain control of the country the military has waged war on its own citizens. More than 1500 people have been killed and more than 11,000 imprisoned for opposing the regime. That doesn’t include the casualties of armed conflict which, in the past few weeks, has included bombing of villages in Kayah state, incinerating a group of eleven villages (including children) in Sagaing region, and burning 31 people in their vehicles at a checkpoint as they tried to flee fighting. It is estimated that 320,000 people have been displaced and are homeless.
Meanwhile, the economy continues its nosedive. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) this week reported a loss of 1.5 million jobs in Myanmar over the past year and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimate half the population will fall below the poverty line.
Public services have collapsed. More than 400,000 civil servants, including medical staff and teachers, resigned in protest as part of a national civil disobedience movement, and the defiance continues in the face of the military brutality. Diplomatic observers report that the junta is the equivalent of a foreign occupation force and local resistance has ensured that the country is ungovernable.
Myanmar is now one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a doctor or nurse. In the past 12 months 286 health workers have been arrested, 128 health facilities attacked by the military and more than 30 doctors, paramedics and nurses killed.
Despite the odds it is the National Unity Government (NUG), a coalition of the MPs elected in the 2020 general election and ethnic representatives, which is building momentum and credibility.
The NUG’s credibility comes partly from its core as the government overwhelmingly elected by the people of Myanmar in a fair election in November 2020, but also because it has established an inclusive process, the National Unity Consultative Council.
Within the council elected MPs have been working with representatives of ethnic organisations and civil society organisations and unions on a charter for a new constitution which will bring the federal democracy which was promised at the time of independence in 1947. Reports indicate that this has been a successful process.
More controversially, the NUG has called for “revolt against the rule of military terrorists” and has supported the People’s Defence Forces, the numerous militia which have been formed by young people and which have been trained and are working closely with several ethnic armed organisations.
Reports suggest that the armed strategy has been successful in ground conflict with the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar armed forces, which has increasingly resorted to aerial bombing and heavy artillery bombardment.
But a credible government in waiting, a commitment to federal democracy, and military successes against the junta on the ground are unlikely to result in victory for the democratic forces in the foreseeable future. Russia and China remain firmly supportive of the military junta at his stage, and the UN and Asean have been embarrassingly ineffective.
A resolution is not in sight. But one thing is clear, there is overwhelming anger at the military, and the people of Myanmar want to be rid of them. The junta proposal of elections next year, designed to ensure a government of generals in suits, will just provoke more determination and resistance.