A demonstrator sprays a fire extinguisher as he runs away from a barricade during a protests in Yangon, Myanmar Image Credit: Reuters

Two years after the military scuttled Myanmar’s fledging democratic experiment, the authorities led by General Min Aung Hlaing continue to face resistance from the people. Popular uprising against the military has reportedly become a civil conflict where none of the parties seem to have an upper hand, for now.

During this time the “resistance has withstood some of the most ruthless counterinsurgency operations ever conducted by the military, especially over the course of 2022,” according to Renaud Egreteau of City University of Hong Kong.

While small flash rallies continue unabated across the country, local resistance groups have mushroomed in some regions of Myanmar. In addition, boycotting military owned businesses remain a popular tool of protest.

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In defiance to the military, politicians, activists and others have rallied around the National Unity Government (NUG), which is still in search of international recognition.

The conflict within the country has caused the near collapse of public health and education system which has left 7.8 million children out of school. Consequently, more than 5 million children are reportedly in need for humanitarian assistance. Inequality has worsened in the country where 40 per cent of people now live below the poverty line.

Myanmar’s economy, already battered by Covid-19 and punishing sanctions since 2020 is further under pressure for being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Faced with these conditions, people around the country are forced into the informal economy or family network for survival.

Surviving under harsh conditions

Hundreds of thousands of young in Myanmar have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries and elsewhere from where they remit money for their families to survive under harsh conditions.

Myanmar therefore, remains trapped in conflict, increasing political instability and faces a growing humanitarian crisis. Business and labour market that had earlier been affected due to the pandemic have suffered worst following the military takeover. Depreciation of ‘kyat’- the local currency against major currencies has raised the price of fuel, commodities and imported raw materials.

The country faces frequent power cuts. According to the International Labor Organisation 1.1 million fewer people were employed in 2022 against 2021.

In this state of uncertainty migrant remittances, long source of household income in Myanmar have declined considerably adding pressure on hapless people.

The military junta, unable to quell the rebellion is seeking legitimacy by planning to hold elections in August 2023. The military “aim(s) to convince the Myanmar people and leaders across the Asian region that the best bet is for a managed electoral process”, according to Nicholas Farrelly, professor and head of Social Sciences at the University of Tasmania.

However, in a small victory, the UN has voted to keep the Myanmar representative to the UN appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi government in place, denying representation to the military junta.

Concern over situation in Myanmar

Also, the UN Security Council, in December 2022 adopted the first ever resolution on Myanmar, expressing deep concern over situation in Myanmar and urging release of all political prisoners. Neither, China or Russia, vetoed the resolution.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Myanmar belongs has taken a less accommodating view of the military government. While barring the regime’s representation in the ASEAN’s meetings, several leaders in the region have already expressed scepticism over the general elections that the military regime plans to hold in Myanmar.

In this situation the ASEAN could find itself in a bind whether to acknowledge the elections as a means to finding political solution by the military.

Indonesia, the largest state of the ASEAN, faces the dilemma presented by Myanmar as it has taken over the 2023 chair of the organisation.

Jakarta is still committed to the 2021 5-point consensus that it led, as a way towards finding a way out of Myanmar dilemma. These views have recently been supported by Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Within the bloc however, it is Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore that have openly taken a position in favour of participatory government in Myanmar while the other 5 have been ambivalent about an ‘internal matter’ of a member state.

But ASEAN has already tempered its ‘non-interference’ principle when it barred the junta leader General Min from participating in the ASEAN summit.

Some commentators, based on the apparent inaction by the military regime on the ASEAN five-point formula, have recommended Myanmar’s suspension or even expulsion from the group.

Despite apparent unity and yearning to return to a democratic system, people are not sure of how and when the change in Myanmar would occur or what would it lead to.

Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2017. He was a member of Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served as ambassador to several countries.