It’s been one year since the people of Burma went to the polls to vote in a multiparty national election. Despite some structural flaws, the November 8, 2020, election was deemed to be credible, and, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a written statement on the anniversary, it “reaffirmed the commitment of the Burmese people to democracy.”
The famous lines of the 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier come to mind when thinking of what followed in Burma: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.’”
The hope and promise for Burma manifested by the election ended on February 1, 2021, when the Burmese military seized control of Burma’s government and detained the country’s leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her political party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD. The NLD won a landslide victory in the November 2020 parliamentary elections, and the regime launched the coup as the country’s newly elected Parliament was preparing for its initial session.
The United States galvanized an international coalition that strongly condemned the military’s actions, which upended Burma’s transition from military rule to democracy. Protests throughout the country followed, which were met by lethal force by the military. More than 1,300 people have been killed and more than 10,000 imprisoned. Many current military regime leaders are the same people responsible for the ethnic cleansing against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya and the appalling violence against other ethnic and religious minorities.
Secretary Blinken said that the military’s ongoing violent crackdown “has further undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms and reversed a decade of progress toward a genuine democracy that the people of Burma clearly sought and still seek.”
On the anniversary of the November 8 elections, Secretary Blinken declared, “We honor the people of Burma striving to restore democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country, including more than 1,300 innocent people who have lost their lives in that struggle. The United States is committed to promoting justice and accountability for these and other abuses by the regime. Today we reiterate our call for the military regime immediately to cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and return Burma’s path to a genuine and inclusive democracy.”