Myanmar Descends Back into Military Rule

David Dapice, senior economist with the Ash Center’s Myanmar Program, on the recent coup and its implications

As Myanmar’s military launched a coup, imprisoning many of the country’s political leaders including Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the country’s largest political party, the National League for Democracy, we spoke with David Dapice, a senior economist with the Rajawali Institute. Dapice has worked extensively in Myanmar, engaging with members of the country’s civilian leadership, senior military officials, and representatives of many of the country’s numerous ethnic groups as part of the Myanmar Program’s work to deepen the understanding of the development and democratic governance challenges facing Myanmar. We sat down with Dapice to discuss the coup and its implications for the future of Myanmar.  
Ash: Did the coup come as a surprise to you and other Myanmar watchers? 
Dapice: It has been apparent for years that Aung San Suu Kyi and the senior generals did not have good chemistry. General Min Aung Hlaing also was quite explicit that he wanted to rule the country and perhaps hoped that his military-linked party would do better in the recent elections, which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. There was also nervousness that the NLD would try to modify the military-drafted constitution to reduce the army’s influence.
Why did the military feel it needed to take this step given? 

Dapice: What is surprising is that the military, with an effective veto over constitutional reform, felt it necessary to take this step. The country is having a health crisis, economic difficulties, and renewed ethnic strife. The senior general will have all of that at the military’s door without any civilian government to blame.

Dapice, pictured here presenting at an Ash Center event about Myanmar’s 2015 elections, has worked extensively in the country
What steps can the international community take to help restore a semblance of democracy to Myanmar? 

Dapice: I doubt that the condemnation of India, Japan, the United States and European Union will matter much to military. China is more influential there now, and they have largely been mum on the events of the last few days.

Do you think the country is entering another period of prolonged military rule as it was for much of the last 40 years, or is there a possibility that the country’s civilian leaders can reassert themselves? 
Dapice: I do not think that the civilian leadership is well enough organized to resist a military crackdown, but there may be some dissension within the military. The previous senior general [Than Shwe] was responsible for the transition to civilian government mixed with military control and saw it in broader terms than just who was President.