Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country with 90% of the population following Gautama Buddha’s teachings. However, like in Sri Lanka, the saffron-robed clergy in Myanmar share similarities; they are often part of civilian struggles when those in power attempt to ‘walk over’ the common people. What’s happening in Myanmar is important to Sri Lanka in many ways. Here in this island nation, we have an ex-military man as President who keeps appointing individuals with a military background to state institutes. It’s good if the opposition forces in parliament raise their voice against the ‘junta’ taking over power in Myanmar because that’ll remind everyone here in Sri Lanka that those walking the corridors of power can become ruthless when back benchers in parliament are passive or inefficient.
Like in Sri Lanka, members of the Buddhist clergy in Myanmar are divided. As much as there are saffron robed monks backing democracy, there is section of the clergy which is backing the commander in chief of the defence services Min Aung Hlaing, who initiated the coup. The junta has commenced rule with an iron fist; blocked internet facility for a day after declaring a state of emergency for a period of one year. Critics point out that there would be many arrests soon; very often those to be taken in would be political enemies.
Similar to Sri Lanka that ‘weighty’ word called nationalism offers those ambitious ones in Myanmar a ‘product’ that can be sold. The Junta is fully aware that backing nationalism is a sure way to obtain the support of the Buddhist clergy.
" Hlaing, saw that he could live his dream to be President of his country only through a coup. This is because the Union Solidarity and Development Party that Hlaing backed were routed at the 2020 General Elections by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy"
Things are a bit different in Sri Lanka where the constitution gives Buddhism the topmost place in the country; thereby the clergy having the tendency to enjoy that lofty status and guide the lawmakers when they screw up on foreign policy matters and attempt to sell off national assets to the outside world. If a comparison is made between the two nations, Myanmar could be on a better wicket. This is because for them, national interest comes first and these people would never have gambled like Sri Lanka did in 2015 and backed a man of little skill like Maithripala Sirisena as a presidential candidate thinking he’ll usher in ‘good governance’.
In Sri Lanka, Sirisena was promoted as a candidate by a chief monk of a temple in Kotte and lawmakers who were in the monk’s camp catered to the latter’s plan to topple the government. As for the people of Myanmar, their number one choice as leader has always been Suu Kyi because the charming lady has been the people’s choice and not necessarily the choice of the clergy. However this tunnel like focus on one politician like Suu Kyi also didn’t help their cause, as much as they desired. The charming lady has been targeted rather ruthlessly leaving a frustrated nation with little option, but to seek support from saffron robed monks.
"Similar to Sri Lanka that ‘weighty’ word called nationalism offers those ambitious ones in Myanmar a ‘product’ that can be sold. The Junta is fully aware that backing nationalism is a sure way to obtain the support of the Buddhist clergy"
Back in 2007, an 80,000 strong wave of humans clad in saffron robes took to the streets and protested successfully against the Junta’s attempt to cut on fuel subsidies. That monk movement came to be known as the ‘Saffron Revolution’.
This movement still has punch and is already agitating against the Junta which assumed power in Myanmar on February 1. There is international support for those oppressed in Myanmar at the moment; there are protest in Thailand and large concerns regarding the ‘military takeover’ in some Asian countries already.
Possibly the retiring military man of Myanmar; Hlaing, saw that he could live his dream to be President of his country only through a coup. This is because the Union Solidarity and Development Party that Hlaing backed were routed at the 2020 General Elections by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Sadly for Myanmar, the country didn’t engage itself in any kind of war after independence in 1948; hence a man with a military background will not be the people’s choice. The situation here in Sri Lanka is quite different though because the island’s security forces militarily squashed armed terrorist rebels after almost three decades of a civil war. Still that ‘wave of patriotism’ and smell of victory lasts with regard to the ‘war against terrorism’ in Sri Lanka. Suu Kyi also might fail if she contested elections in Sri Lanka and battled against a candidate like Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
But Myanmar is Myanmar, and Sri Lanka is so different and has a history of invaders declaring war and threatening this island nation. Hence, though Sri Lankan kings have embraced Buddhism and its nonviolent path the country’s armies have always been on guard with weapon in hand. Sri Lanka as a nation will ‘live in the present moment’ as the Buddha preached, but has learned its lessons for not practicing ‘eternal vigilance’ being islanders and being positioned close to one of the busiest shipping routes in Asia. If Sri Lanka had a peaceful leader like Suu Kyi it would have run the risk of a swift takeover by a neighbouring country.
Meanwhile, protests continue in Myanmar and even the world’s super power America has threatened sanctions over the country’s business interests given the recent political developments in this Asian nation. The United Nations’ Security Council has called for the upholding of a democratic institution and to refrain from violence. All over the world military style takeovers and the rule of a nation by ex-military men or tyrants, even if they were elected by vote, have made civilians agitate. Men with a military background are used to only one way of administrating an institute or country and that’s through a ‘command’. People of Myanmar don’t like to be commanded; and so is the rest of the world!
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