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Myanmar’s Interrupted Transition: The Democratic Instinct Survives

June 2nd, 2023  •  Author:   Peace Research Institute Oslo  •  2 minute read
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MongMao, Andra & Marte Nilsen (2023) Myanmar’s Interrupted Transition: The Democratic Instinct Survives, PRIO Policy Brief, 4. Oslo: PRIO.

​Myanmar’s democratic transition was interrupted by the 2021 coup. Ten years of progress and reform were reversed, returning the country to military dictatorship. Yet the transition has not completely failed. Rather, the coup pushed democratic actors, norms and behavior outside Myanmar’s formal political institutions and processes. These actors have been re-constituted in a broad-based resistance to authoritarian governance, aspiring to civilian rule within a new federal constitution. The changes are transformational. They occur as escalating civil conflict, social resistance and international isolation are eroding the military’s traditional sources of power and legitimacy.

Brief Points

  • Myanmar’s 2020 election results signaled an epistemic shift in Myanmar society, favoring a democratic system and rejecting a political role for the military.
  • A new multi-ethnic political and military alliance has emerged since the 2021 coup. The alliance poses a credible challenge to the military’s dominance.
  • As a result, the military’s ability to control Myanmar’s political and economic affairs appears to be declining.
  • The opposition is developing an alternative democratic governing structure that may provide a pathway out of the cycle of authoritarian rule and conflict.
  • Unity within the opposition is fragile, and it currently lacks the strength needed to overcome the military’s advantages derived from controlling state institutions and resources.
  • International support should focus on actions that promote opposition unity while focusing on critical regime vulnerabilities, especially constraining access to arms and economic resources that are critical to the military’s war effort.

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