Twilight over Burma

“History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce,” according to Marx.

The 1962 coup in Burma was followed by five decades of harsh military rule. There is little farcical about the 1 February coup when in the weeks passing many unarmed protesters have been killed including many children. The situation in Myanmar gives rise to grave concern. Fitch Solutions is projecting a “conservative” 20% contraction for the 2020-21 fiscal year in Myanmar. It said this month the rising death toll combined with increased social instability means “all areas of GDP by expenditure are set to collapse.”

The garment sector is at a halt with many factories in Yangon being burnt down by a wave of anti-Chinese feeling. People are angry at the complicit support of China over the military take over. The military has been switching off the internet in order to prevent people from finding out what is going on and to organise protests. Also, to prevent news from reaching the outside world. Many journalists have been arrested, some still remain in detention, and news organisations have had their licenses withdrawn. Closing down the internet for periods of the day comes at an economic cost. The fragile banking system is already teetering with depositors limited to how much they can draw from their accounts. Exporters cannot reach their customers.

The Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, still has access to its funds from gems, jade, and oil and gas. Its business interests operating in a mafia like way which isolates it from the economic collapse. The ordinary Burmese have no such isolation with many now considering fleeing to India and Thailand. An influx of refugees shows the problems to Thailand of having an unstable Myanmar on its borders. The resistance has now shifted from the main cities to the Shan states in NW Myanmar. Police stations have been attacked. Another area of traditional resistance is on the Indian border with an equal influx of refugees. A massive humanitarian disaster is on the cards.

What of the international response? This has been weak. Britain has placed some sanctions on Myanmar. The UK will enforce sanctions immediately against 6 military members of the State Administration Council for their responsibility for serious human rights violations. Also, against a corporation which the military controls. More needs to be done.

ASEAN, which Myanmar is a part of, traditionally remains neutral when it comes the internal affairs of its member states. However, it is increasing moving from this stance with Singapore and Malaysia calling for some kind of diplomatic action involving Myanmar.

The international response remains muted. As Myanmar drifts into civil war urgent action is required. This must not become a “forgotten War.” The people of Myanmar know that the way forward is the democratic road. There cannot be a return to the repression and poverty of the past.

The Liberal Democrats Overseas will continue to monitor the situation to keep it in the public eye. Also, I hope the British Group of Liberal International will focus on this issue. What better way than to show the movie ‘Twilight over Burma’ at the National Liberal Club.

* Ian Martin lives in Thailand. He is a lifelong Liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrat Overseas executive.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 14th Apr '21 - 11:47am

    Alas with right wing authoritarian style govnts in charge response will be muted and coups could be a temptation.If the world does not want to slide into anarchy and World War 3 it will have to develop a backbone to say enough is enough.

  • A couple of things that might be done quickly is supporting the Myanamar ambassador to the UK by offering him safe haven and calling for the dropping of charges of Aung San Suu Kyi.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 15th Apr '21 - 9:08am

    An excellent, measured summary, specifically the current ineffectiveness of both regional and global institutions. I am moderating a Democracy Forum seminar next Tuesday and would welcome injecting Liberal Democrat views into the discussion.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Apr '21 - 1:50pm

    Reigning in the military following dictatorship is probably as challenging as catching an eel. You think you’ve done it and it’s away. I suspect doing it properly requires more support from international institutions than Burma was prepared to accept or they were to give.

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