Myanmar’s military coup on February 1 is a sight that Thai politics is too familiar with.
A democratically elected government overthrown by the army, citing electoral fraud, has been so common within Thai politics that it might as well be written into the constitution.
And that is exactly what the Myanmar military did to its 2008 constitution.
Invoking Article 417 and 418, the Myanmar military forcibly put civilian president Win Myint under arrest. Power is then passed on to military-appointed vice president Myint Swe, who later went on to declare a state of emergency, and handing power over to the military.
The Myanmar military did not need to suspend the constitution because what they did, according to them, is perfectly legal, a move that must be Thai junta’s constitution drafter’s wet dream. If Thailand sets a precedent to what is to come for Myanmar, then a military government is expected to rule over Myanmar for the next five years, if not longer, while committing to a vague democratic roadmap and the false promise of an upcoming election.
Civilian protests in major cities like Mandalay, Yangon and Naypyidaw erupted almost immediately and kept growing in size. Reminiscent of the protests in Thailand, there were many similarities between the protests in the two countries. The protests were called using word of mouth and social media and explored the usage of meme culture, LGBTQ theme,s and the three finger salute. The major difference, however, was that the number of protesters in Myanmar kept growing. Unlike in Thailand, it seemed the population was universally against military rule.
Despite attempts of information censorship and Internet shutdown, images of Myanmar civil servicemen such as doctors, teachers, nurses, judges, policemen, and immigration officers participating in the protest have spread globally.
What initially appeared to be sporadic acts of defiance has gathered momentum and cultivated into a civil disobedience movement throughout the country. This could not have been more different than the protests that took place in Thailand.
Protesters that came out to defy Prayut Chan-ocha’s coup d’etat in 2014 were entirely civilian. Meanwhile, protests that were spearheaded by Ratsadon and Free Youth in 2020 also drew very little participation from civil servicemen, at least not in their official capacity. It is understandable that perhaps the civil servicemen are merely playing it safe for their occupational safety. However, the PDRC protests painted a completely different picture.
Infamous pictures of doctors, university professors, Thai Airways employees and many more participating in the PDRC protests are all over the Internet and subjected to much mockery nowadays. These democratic traitors were not playing it safe. They took sides, and they chose to stand against democracy.
The blatant disregard for democratic values by the Thai government employees was not only a bleak outlook for Thai democracy, it also revealed the deep divide within the country. To these people, the country’s freedom and democratic progress meant, as long as they can still continue to collect their monthly paychecks and benefits.
What is distressing is that Myanmar is likely to succeed faster than Thailand, where vested interests and a loyalty to the status quo trumps the will for true democracy.
While civilian protests and popular uprisings are powerful symbols to demonstrate the populace’s dissatisfaction, civil servants joining protests have the capacity to shut down an illegitimate government and/or provide an opportunity for the world to see that a country was universally against military-rule.
Social sanctions and boycotts only go so far, eventually the protesters must be able to convince those in government in every position that the cause of democratic reform is necessary and in the best interest for all.
Unfortunately, public servants in Thailand do not have the same aversion to the military as their Myanmar counter part nor would they run risks to their employment. One could argue that is because they do not care or are just waiting for their turn to pick at the pie but the more likely explanation is that a history of successful military coups has made people unaware of how damaging military-rule truly is.
That is not the case in Myanmar.
They have already witnessed what authoritarianism does to a country for over four decades. As freedom starts to burgeon in Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing’s attempt to revert the country back to authoritarianism means taking away the people’s liberty and prosperity. And Myanmar’s population, whether government or otherwise, know if the country cannot prosper, they cannot prosper – no matter how secure a government job is.
And if Myanmar’s civil disobedience is successful in preventing Min Aung Hlaing’s coup, it will set new precedence not only for Myanmar’s politics, but possibly for the entire Mekong region.