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Coup in Myanmar: What Differences in Thailand and Cambodia?

Myanmar people protesting against the military coup in Myanmar

In the early morning of February 1, Myanmar's military spearheaded by General Min Aung Hlaing staged a coup against National League for Democracy (NLD) leader and hitherto State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. She and her party senior members have been put under house arrest. However, this is not new in Southeast Asia where countries such as Cambodia and Thailand also experienced coups but the responses and resistance were different.

While the international community, including the UN, US and EU, condemned the coup and called for the release of Suu Kyi and others, Cambodia and Thailand saw the coup as the internal affairs of Myanmar. In the meantime, Tatmadaw is facing paramount pressures for their actions, and consequently the international communimposed sanctions on the Junta regime.

One Thai regional thinker also suggests Tatmadaw, Myanmar's armed forces, learn from Thai’s post-military coup on how to return to normalcy. The coup makers, Myanmar’s General Min Aung Hlaing, already sent a six pages letter to General Prayut Chan-o-cha for support, while ASEAN as a whole seems not really in the defence of the coup-makers in Myanmar. 

Tatmadaw is well realised that Thailand is a stronghold for Myanmar diaspora or workers abroad who can stage anti-coup protests. By courting Thailand, it hopes for some restrictions on the anti-coup activities of Myanmar workers therein. Moreover, within ASEAN, Indonesia and Malaysia called for a special meeting to discuss the coup in Myanmar. Since both Thailand and Myanmar experienced a series of coups in their political history, they may support each other to pass this critical time to normalcy.

One of the compelling questions is whether Tatmadaw could get away with the coup the way the Thai junta did. It is interesting to mention that one important difference between Myanmar and Thai coups is that majority of the former’s population stands with Suu Kyi including those who don’t support her but support democracy. In Thailand, the 2014 coup makers were closely linked to the royal palace, therefore the coup makers and the anti-coup were almost in equilibrium in terms of people power. Hence civil disobedience won’t work in Thailand but may work in Myanmar.

General Prayut got away with the coup (the 12th since the country's first coup in 1932). But General Hlaing, this time, may not get away with it. Strong opposition is taking place internally and externally. In Cambodia too, the 1997 coup-makers got away with it because, in terms of popular strength, both sides were almost in equilibrium. Importantly, the international community seemed to get tired of political turmoils in Cambodia which had prolonged for the past three decades and let the strong took the lead. However, Cambodia's 1997 coup (some may call it an armed clash) was a bloody one.

Basically, people power worked in the situation when the majority of people were in total support for one side, say it, Suu Kyi in Myanmar, but not in the case of Cambodia and Thailand. Anti-coup protests have been going on in several provinces in Myanmar. Gandhi's tactic of civil disobedience has been practised by doctors and civil servant and the like against the Junta.
Buddhist monks march during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo)

The political role of Buddhist monks in these three Buddhist kingdoms is dynamics and deserves a comparative study. Myanmar Buddhist monks are closely linked to nationalism and they are very influential on the people. Myanmar has the world's large Theravada Buddhist monks with up to thousands of them in a monastery. They are the vital source of support for Suu Kyi. On the other hand, Thai monks are not much active or involved much in politics as they are closely linked to the royal palace and gains the king's patronage. Similar to Myanmar monks, Cambodian Buddhist monks were active in the national cause in the past. For instance, the independence movement against the French began with Buddhist temples. Nowadays, they are divided when it comes to political issues.

However, the international community must not allow the coup-makers to get away with their gross actions against democracy in Myanmar. They must be taught a lesson so as to prevent any attempt to stage a coup against democratically elected leaders in the region in the future. Among international major players, ASEAN must take the lead to facilitate Myanmar's return to democracy.

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