February 22 brought a sense of déjà vu for the people in Myanmar when the country witnessed a nationwide protest against the Military junta. Millions of people took to the streets on Monday, accusing the current military regime of throttling the democratic transition in the country.
The protest is seen as the largest since February 1 military coup and is being termed as ‘22222 Revolution’ as it took place on February 22, bringing back the memories of the ‘8888 Uprising’ of August 8, 1988.
Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, witnessed a sea of peaceful protesters shouting slogans against the military regime. In the second biggest city, Mandalay, nearly every resident joined the demonstrations, condemning the crackdown on pro-democracy elements by the army.
Monday’s pro-democracy protest is seen as the largest so far since the Myanmar military, also called Tatmadaw, seized power on February 1, putting the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint besides several elected representatives behind bars.
The ‘22222 Revolution’ had a striking resemblance to the August 8, 1988 uprising in which millions came out on the streets to defy the then socialist regime.
The August 8, 1988 Uprising
A series of country-protests led by students came to be known as the 8888 Uprising. Students, mostly from the Rangoon Arts and Sciences University (the present-day University of Yangon) had staged these protests against the then totalitarian regime of General Ne Win.
According to a Time magazine report, the protests lasted for six months with hundreds of thousands of citizens participating in “a nationwide mutiny, led by disaffected students, against the ruthless dictator Ne Win”.
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The Southeast Asian country had been ruled by General Ne Win-led Burma Socialist Programme Party since 1962. The so-called ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ focussed solely on strengthening the military, thereby turning Burma (Myanmar) into one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
As the student-led protests intensified, the government cracked down on agitators, drawn from various walks of life — monks, children, housewives, doctors, and common people.
“Thousands were killed, and many more imprisoned and tortured by the military. A bloody putsch in September 1988 installed a military junta that would rule the country for the next 22 years, putting an end to the stillborn revolution.
“But the events of August and September also set the stage for Myanmar’s future. The democratic fervor also gave rise to Myanmar’s current ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” said the Time report published marking the 30th anniversary of the uprising.
The Current Unrest
Human rights groups are deeply worried over the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. As of February 23, at least 700 people including monks, writers, activists, politicians, and others had been arrested, news agency Associated Press reported citing a report by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Myanmar-based organization.
It claims those arrested were charged under colonial-era laws, which have been often invoked to silence the critics of every government, including the one led by Suu Kyi’s NLD.
“We have now seen not just a new generation of political prisoners, but also the retargeting of former political prisoners,” AP quoted Manny Maung, a Myanmar researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, as saying.
Meanwhile, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) bloc has expressed concern over the current situation in Myanmar, the largest country in the grouping. On February 24, the military junta-appointed Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin flew to Bangkok to meet Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, after the latter abruptly canceled her planned trip to Myanmar.
Indonesia’s hesitation is understandable given that disenfranchised Myanmar voters had staged a demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon on February 23 to protest Jakarta’s reported push for ASEAN member states to agree to hold fresh elections by Tatmadaw. Jakarta denied the report later.
It is pertinent to mention that the military leaders overthrew the elected civilian government on February 1 alleging large-scale in the November general elections. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League For Democracy (NLD) had won a landslide victory in the polls.