Myanmar’s generals appeared in firm control Tuesday a day after a surgical coup that saw democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi detained, as they offered silence to a barrage of global condemnation.
There were few signs of extra security on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city and commercial capital, indicating the military’s comfort levels as they faced no mass protests.
“We want to go out to show our dissatisfaction,” a taxi driver told AFP early Tuesday morning.
“But Amay Suu (Mother Suu) is in their hands. We cannot do much but stay quietly at this moment.”
The military staged its lightning coup on Monday, arresting Suu Kyi and other leaders from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party just ahead of a schedule resumption of parliament.
The military justified its seizure of power by alleging widespread fraud in elections held three months ago that the NLD won in a landslide.
But US President Joe Biden led the chorus of global outrage, calling for a quick restoration of democracy and warning that Washington could reimpose sanctions.
“The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized,” Biden said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
“The United States is taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and Australia were among others to condemn the coup. Britain summoned Myanmar’s envoy in formal protest.
But China declined to criticise anyone, instead calling for all sides to “resolve differences”.
The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the situation for Tuesday.
Detained before dawn
Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained in the capital Naypyidaw before dawn on Monday, party spokesman Myo Nyunt told AFP before communications with him were cut off.
The military sealed off roads around Naypyidaw with troops, trucks and armoured personnel carriers. Military helicopters flew across the city.
Internet across the country was also severely disrupted during the day, and banks were briefly closed but the Myanmar Banks Association said they would reopen Tuesday.
By nightfall on Monday the military had appeared to pull off a successful coup with no uprising against them, and the NLD muted for now.
Late on Monday, Myanmar state television announced the removal of 24 of Suu Kyi’s ministers, and 11 new appointments.
Military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is now in charge of the country, although former general Myint Swe is acting president.
Min Aung Hlaing is an international pariah, having been banned on Facebook and under US sanctions for a military campaign against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohinyga community that the United States has described as ethnic cleansing.
An MP with Suu Kyi’s NLD party said life continues as normal in the resident dorms for parliamentarians, but their compound is like “an open-air detention centre”.
“We are not allowed to go outside,” she told AFP, requesting anonymity for fear of the military. “We are very worried.”
Suu Kyi and Win Myint were under house arrest, an NLD lawmaker said.
“We were informed not to worry. However we are worrying. It would be a relief if we could see photos of them at home,” the MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Democracy process, interrupted
The military announced on Monday that it would hold power under a state of emergency for 12 months, claiming it would then hold fresh elections.
Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011.
The NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote in November — increasing its support from the 2015 elections.
But the military had for weeks complained the polls were riddled with irregularities, and claimed to have uncovered more than 10 million instances of voter fraud.
Suu Kyi had issued a pre-emptive statement ahead of her detention calling on people “not to accept a coup”, according to a post on the Facebook page of her party’s chairperson.
Suu Kyi, 75, is an immensely popular figure in Myanmar for her opposition to the military — which earned her the Nobel Peace Prize — having spent the best part of two decades under house arrest during the previous dictatorship.
But her international image was shredded during her time in power as she defended the military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the Rohingya.
About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide.
Derek Mitchell, the first US ambassador to Myanmar after military rule, said the international community still needed to respect Suu Kyi’s overwhelming victory in November.
The West “may have considered her this global icon of democracy and that luster is off. But if you care about democracy in the world, then you must respect the democratic choice and she is clearly that”.
“It’s not about the person; it’s about the process,” he said.