Suu Kyi’s Allies Challenge Myanmar Junta With Unity Government

Close allies of Myanmar’s detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi who were ousted in a military coup have joined with ethnic groups to form a new unity government, escalating the chances of a prolonged conflict with the junta.

Detained former President Win Myint and Suu Kyi will retain their positions in the parallel government, which will operate under the terms of a new charter after opponents of the military abolished the country’s 2008 constitution.

“For the first time in our history, Myanmar has a unity government that will reflect one of our nation’s greatest strengths -- the diversity of our people,” Sasa, the unity government’s spokesperson who goes by one name, said in a statement released Friday.

Sasa, who will serve as the Union Minister of International Cooperation, said the new government would work to include all ethnic groups. “The most important mission of our National Unity Government is to finally bring an end to the great suffering of the people of Myanmar at the hands of a criminal, ruthless military junta,” he said.

The formal alliance comes at a time when the military has struggled to take control of a population that has resisted its rule every step of the way since the coup. Protesters, including students, civil servants and even diplomats, have refused to heed the junta’s orders to resume their duties, sending the economy into a free-fall amid persisting violent attacks on civilians. This has experts worried Myanmar is now on the path of becoming a failed state.

As of Thursday, more than 700 people have been killed by the junta and over 3,000 either detained or sentenced to prison since February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The regime has also been engaged in renewed armed conflict with ethnic groups, exacerbating a decades-long civil war. While the shadow government has hopes for expanding support among such groups, more violence may dampen hopes for national reconciliation once seen as a central pillar of the country’s ill-fated democratic transition more than a decade ago.

“It sets a collision course with the junta, but that was unavoidable given the illegal context of the coup in the first place,” said Hunter Marston, a Canberra-based political analyst who has written about Myanmar for several publications. “The junta has made clear its political aims are antithetical to the democratic aspirations of Myanmar’s people.”

With no end to the violence in sight, the U.S. and its western allies have continued with sanctions against military officials and the companies linked to the regime. On Thursday, Reuters reported the European Union agreed to impose restrictions against two companies close to the military and another 10 individuals.

International conglomerates have steadily pulled out of partnerships the military with Posco Coated & Color Steel Co. Ltd. the latest to do so on Friday. The South Korean firm has a 70% stake in a joint venture with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., which is controlled by the junta.

Prioritizing the end of dictatorship, the unity government will be composed of a president, state counselor -- a post previously held by Suu Kyi -- two vice presidents, a premier, ministers and deputies. Additionally, it will cede greater power to state leaders, placing them above union ministers.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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