YANGON/BANGKOK — Myanmar on Tuesday marked a year since the military ousted the democratically elected government, with the Southeast Asian country left in chaos as harsh crackdowns have galvanized groups calling for a "revolution" to end military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader until the Feb. 1, 2021, coup, remains under house arrest and already faces 6 years in prison after being put on trial on more than 10 charges. If convicted of all charges, she could be sentenced to over 150 years in prison.
The military, which claimed widespread voter fraud in the 2020 general election when toppling Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy-led government, has said a new election will be held by August next year, making it almost certain the 76-year-old democracy icon will be kept out of the country's political landscape.
In a televised address on the first anniversary, the junta chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, justified the crackdowns as a response to "terrorist attacks" by pro-democracy forces and others.
The general also indicated plans to introduce a proportional representation system in the next general election, a system likely to favor a military-affiliated party.
The military said the previous day it would extend the yearlong state of emergency declared in the wake of the coup for another 6 months until Aug. 1.
Harsh crackdowns by Myanmar's security forces on anti-coup protesters and others have left over 1,500 people dead since the military takeover, according to a human rights group monitoring the situation.
Diplomatic efforts have yielded little progress, with the military not following through on a 5-point ASEAN consensus aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the country's political crisis.
Pro-democracy groups have called on social media for supporters to protest against military rule by holding a "silent strike" on Tuesday by refusing to go to work or leave home.
The United States, in coordination with Britain and Canada, on Monday announced more sanctions on Myanmar officials and entities linked to the military, with President Joe Biden calling on the junta to release Suu Kyi and all others who have been wrongfully detained.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in a statement Tuesday condemned the violence in Myanmar that he said is "causing many deaths despite repeated calls from the international community."
Myanmar's economy remains badly affected by the coup and its aftermath, with the skyrocketing prices of imported goods resulting from a plunging local currency exacting a heavy toll on Myanmar people's lives.
An estimated 1.6 million jobs were lost in the country last year as the coup compounded problems faced by the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Labor Organization.
In April, the country's pro-democracy forces set up the National Unity Government as a parallel underground government. It later established a "People's Defense Force," calling on citizens to take up arms against the military while declaring the launch of a "defensive war" in September. The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has labeled the organization a terrorist group.
In a recent online interview, Yee Mon, the shadow government-appointed defense minister, revealed that about 7,000 soldiers of the Tatmadaw have been killed in the fighting so far, while the military has killed "thousands of innocent civilians."
Yee Mon added that around 9,000 national army soldiers and police officers had left their posts to join pro-democracy forces, as "citizens are not accepting any more of the military" given their past actions.
Shortly after the coup, millions of people took to the streets across Myanmar, demanding the restoration of the civilian government and the immediate release of detained leaders, such as Suu Kyi. But security forces suppressed them brutally.
Cambodia, this year's rotating chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is planning to exclude the military-appointed foreign minister from an upcoming meeting due to the junta's lack of cooperation in implementing the 5-point consensus, according to sources close to the matter.
In a recent telephone interview, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar's military, said that "no agreement" had been reached regarding the 5 points, and that one of the points, requesting a meeting "with all parties concerned" including Suu Kyi, could not be granted.
"Our only promise there is that we will do whatever we can to fulfill (ASEAN's) suggestions as long as our national sovereignty and stability is not affected," Zaw Min Tun said.
The Central Command and Coordination Committee, a command structure formed by the National Unity Government last October, has been working to coordinate guerrilla operations by the People's Defense Force and ethnic minority armed forces across Myanmar.
Yee Mon said the shadow government, which has now established formal relations with 6 armed groups, will work together to "take down the junta and to form a true federal democracy country."
The fighting between the Tatmadaw and the resistance forces, however, has driven an estimated 320,000 people from their homes, leaving them internally displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.