Myanmar’s NLD party supporters protest military coup without street rallies

There were few signs of extra security on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city and commercial capital. PHOTO: NYTIMES

YANGON - Hemmed in by the coronavirus pandemic and aggressive crowds of pro-military demonstrators on the streets, supporters of Myanmar's ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) party launched online campaigns, banged pots and pans in unison and vowed civil disobedience on Tuesday (Feb 2).

This follows the military coup that put State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior politicians under detention.

NLD condemned the coup via a Facebook post. The party called for results of the Nov 8 election to be acknowledged and Parliament to be convened.

But no immediate reply was given by the government, which is now controlled by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. The senior general assumed full powers when a one-year state of emergency was declared on Monday.

On the same day, a list of new Cabinet members stacked with former military officers was announced, with many who had served before during the presidency of retired general Thein Sein. They included Mr Wunna Muang Lwin, who replaces Ms Suu Kyi as foreign minister, and Mr Win Shein, who replaces Mr Soe Win as minister of planning, finance and industry.

On Tuesday, banks reopened and Internet and phone connections that were slowed or shut on Monday were restored. According to the Myanmar Times, all flights have been suspended at least until end-April.

Local reports say the military asked elected lawmakers who had gathered in Naypyitaw for Monday's planned Parliament opening to return to their home towns. It is not known when 75-year-old Ms Suu Kyi, who was detained in her home in Naypyitaw, will be freed.

While hundreds of pro-military supporters rallied in Yangon on Tuesday, NLD supporters - wary of confrontations that might justify the coup or an extension of the emergency - stayed in.

"People are really desperate. They really want to do something and show their resistance," one veteran Yangon-based political activist, who asked not be named for fear of retaliation, told The Straits Times. "But they are in a dilemma."

Myanmar's junta-crafted 2008 Constitution makes the Tatmadaw - Myanmar's armed forces - an autonomous entity alongside the civilian government erstwhile led by Ms Suu Kyi. Apart from the ministries of defence, home affairs and border affairs, it is guaranteed a quarter of all parliamentary seats.

But the NLD's sweeping victory in the 2015 election, as well as the one in November, when it won more than 80 per cent of the vote, reduced the kind of clout the military could muster with the help of allied parties.

The Tatmadaw alleged massive electoral fraud, an allegation not backed up by election observers. In a statement on Monday declaring an emergency, it said the election commission's failure to ensure a free, fair, and transparent election was a threat to the sovereignty of Myanmar.

It promised to form a new election commission and then conduct a new election after the emergency.

Statements circulating online declared that medical staff in several hospitals nationwide will boycott work, starting on Wednesday, in protest against military rule.

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Western leaders condemned the coup by Myanmar’s military against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government.

NLD supporters turned their Facebook profiles black or replaced them with a red portrait of Ms Suu Kyi. Red is a signature colour of the NLD.

But several interviewed by The Straits Times said they will avoid rallying in the streets, wary that any unrest they create will legitimise the coup.

"If we are asked to vote, I will only vote for the NLD," said Ms Mu Mu Aye, a 62-year-old homemaker. "But I won't do anything destructive or take part in any protest. I know (the opposite side) will pretend to be NLD supporters and cause riots."

Myanmar soldiers stand inside Yangon City Hall on Feb 2, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Covid-19 pandemic remains a threat in Myanmar. As of 8pm on Tuesday evening, the country had logged 140,354 cases and 3,138 deaths. It began mass vaccination last month after a donation of 1.5 million doses from India, but it is unclear how this will proceed under the military government.

Myanmar-based democracy activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi, 29, says many NLD supporters are hesitant because there are no clear directions from Ms Suu Kyi. While she is revered by the masses for her dogged resistance against the former junta that saw her spend some 15 years under house arrest before 2011, Ms Suu Kyi has also been criticised for her autocratic management style.

"They are not sure who will give the order right now as Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained," Ms Thinzar Shunlei Yi said.

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