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Military rule in Myanmar might 'never end' after coup, religious leader warns

myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi
A group of Myanmar activists residing in Israel hold up a portrait of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi as they chant slogans during a protest outside the country's embassy in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021. |

The military coup in Myanmar might signal the end of democracy in the country if it succeeds, a religious leader from Myanmar now living in the United States said.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military seized power, capturing the nation’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and overturning nine years of civilian government. Suu Kyi had spent 15 years in prison while peacefully advocating for democracy in Myanmar. She leads the pro-democracy NLD party.

The religious leader originally from Myanmar, whose name will not be revealed due to security reasons, told The Christian Post that even when democracy was functioning, Suu Kyi had to worry about the military’s response to her actions. When the military attacked Myanmar’s Muslim minority, there was little she could do to oppose them.

“American people need to know that in order to make change in Myanmar, this is the final and the last opportunity. If nothing happens at this point, this rule will never end. It has been five years since moving into democracy, and we are moving back to the beginning again,” he said.

He stressed that Myanmar’s people love Suu Kyi, but it’s unclear how much power she has to negotiate with the military.

The last five years have been peaceful and prosperous for Myanmar, he noted. As the people had freedom and the country was succeeding economically, the military felt its power fading, he observed.

“A lot of people talk about the bad things about the military junta. The junta sees themselves as losing their people, and the people are hating them so much,” he said.

The military likely launched a coup because it knew it would not control Myanmar’s future, he contended. In the 2020 election, the NLD party won in a landslide. 

The military, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, claimed that the landslide election victory of the pro-democracy party was a result of voter fraud and declared a one-year state of emergency. It now enforces a curfew on citizens and has closed the country’s airports.

International Christian Concern Southeast Asia Regional Manager Gina Goh expressed concern that the military would crack down on minority religious groups as they did in the past. 

“The military is notorious for its relations with the ultranationalist ultra-Buddhist group the Ma Ba Tha,” she said. “The military together with Ma Ba Tha has targeted the Muslims in the country, but they also go after Christians. Once they get a hold of the power, they might resort to things they were doing before they passed the power to the civilian government. They kill. They rape minority Christians.”

The religious leader who spoke to CP believes a lack of support for Myanmar from the Trump administration may have given Myanmar’s military the confidence it needed to launch the coup. In contrast, visits from former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Obama administration encouraged democracy, he argued.

In Myanmar, the military holds immense power and controls 25% of the government, according to the country’s constitution. Military leaders are nationalists who support the country’s majority religion of Buddhism.

“[The coup is] a power play," said Goh. "The military is almost like a gang. They can use their power to intimidate people.”

The military has paid protesters to support the coup alongside soldiers, the religious leader said. International pressure and sanctions will not affect the army’s decisions.

“A lot of people have been praying for Myanmar and many countries have shown their concerns,” he said. “There is nothing international pressure can do to the military junta. They know how to handle it. They have known how to handle it for a long time. They don’t care about the political sanctions or all of it.”

The best thing Christians worldwide can do to help is pray, he said.

“I don’t know what will happen right now. The military junta hates Christians,” he said. “People are crying right now. They are all sad, including me. We don’t even know what we feel right now.”

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