After deposing Myanmar’s democratically elected government, the country’s military has issued the first formal charges against its de facto leader, accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of illegally importing walkie-talkie radios. The allegation is a far cry from the claims of rampant election fraud the military invoked when it seized power on Monday.
Soldiers who raided Suu Kyi’s home early Monday found 10 of the radios, according to Myanmar Now and other news outlets, citing police documents. The reports did not go into detail about why the devices’ import would be deemed illegal.
The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, announced it was taking over all branches of the government on Monday as the Parliament was poised to convene and form a new government based on November elections, in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party dominated its rivals – including a military-backed party.
Both the Nobel Peace laureate and President Win Myint were detained; they will reportedly be kept in custody until at least Feb. 15. The U.S., the U.N. and others have condemned the detentions, which have also included other politicians and activists.
As it put an abrupt end to roughly 10 years of fledgling democracy, the Tatmadaw declared a state of emergency and installed Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing in power. Min said that Myanmar’s Union Election Commission, which did not back the military’s claims of rampant voter fraud, will be “re-constituted.”
“Most analysts agree there were some election irregularities,” NPR’s Michael Sullivan reports, “but not enough to constitute massive fraud.”
While the coup reflects ingrained tensions between Myanmar’s civilian leaders and its military, Mary Callahan, a Myanmar scholar at the University of Washington, tells NPR that it also reflects the ambitions of Min, 64, who had been facing mandatory retirement this summer.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that he had political ambitions,” Callahan said. “But the problem is, under the 2008 constitution, there is no place for a 65-year-old former commander-in-chief to step up to – other than the presidency.”
The military plans to hold a new election one year from now, but Suu Kyi and the NLD party have called for the public to reject a return to military rule.
In Myanmar, anger over the military takeover has bubbled over into a push to boycott the military’s vast business interests. Those enterprises range from beer, coffee and tea to hospitals, banks and an Internet provider, according to the Myanmar Times.
Suu Kyi, 75, holds the official title of state counsellor, but she has been Myanmar’s de facto leader since 2016. Despite her party’s popularity, she is barred from officially becoming president because of legal requirements set by the military.
When the Tatmadaw ceded formal control of the government, the military enshrined many of its powers in the country’s new constitution, remaining in charge of the defense and home ministries. The constitution also reserves 25% of parliamentary seats for the military, allowing it to neutralize Suu Kyi’s attempts at constitutional reforms. With Min now in power, he can solidify his position.
“The last 50 years has taught us that the Myanmar military does not split,” Callahan said. “The bottom line is that the very rigid, hierarchical chain of command is very unlikely to break.”