NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters on Monday that Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders had been “taken” in the early hours of the morning. The raids left Vice-President Myint Swe, a former general, as the acting president.
“I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law,” said Nyunt.
Military juntas had ruled Myanmar for more than five decades prior to a referendum in 2008. The new constitution saw elections carried out in 2010. It also guaranteed the military at least 25 per cent of seats, entrenching its power in Myanmar’s legislature. But November’s election saw most of their popular vote wiped out and support for Suu Kyi increase despite persistent criticism of her poor economic management.
Last week, after the election commission ruled against the military, negotiations between the armed forces and the NLD broke down. The new parliament was due to sit for the first time on Monday.
Aaron Connelly, a south-east Asia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the military had become overconfident about its ability to win an election under the changes to the constitution in 2008.
“The election was embarrassing, it was humiliating,” he said. “I genuinely think they believed they would be a competitive political party. When they realised there was no returning to military men I suspect that it was a major factor in their decision to blow it up.”
The constitution also included a provision for the President to transfer legislative, executive and judicial powers to the Commander-in-Chief of the defence services in a state of emergency.
“They arrested the President so that their ally the Vice President could become acting-President and issue the declaration,” said Connelly. “They are circumventing their own constitution.”
The military takeover drew swift condemnation around the world on Monday. In Washington, the White House warned it “will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vote of Myanmar’s people “must be respected”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemned” the detention of Suu Kyi and the other political leaders, a UN spokesman said. The Australian government called on the military to immediately release all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the developments were “disturbing”. “We all hope for Myanmar, we all hope for what I know the Myanmar people want to achieve,” he said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the takeover was “a direct attack” on Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition.
“We look to the Australian government to make clear our expectations that democratic norms are respected and strengthened,” she said.
The Thai, Cambodian and Philippine governments said the military’s intervention was an “internal affair”, signalling some of Myanmar’s closest neighbours would not interfere in the crisis.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar’s military had never submitted to civilian rule and called on the United States and other countries to impose “strict and directed economic sanctions” on the military leadership and its economic interests.
Reuters reported that a verified Facebook account from Myanmar’s National League for Democracy had posted a message from Suu Kyi urging voters to “wholeheartedly protest” the coup. “The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship,” the statement reportedly said. This masthead was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the statement.
What in the World
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.