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When beauty pageants turn political: What’s really happening in Myanmar7 min read

May 20, 2021 5 min read

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When beauty pageants turn political: What’s really happening in Myanmar7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Our standards of beauty have evolved over the years. We have expanded the meaning of the word ‘beautiful’, especially after movements around body-positivity (accepting ones body as it is) and inner beauty stole the limelight. In turn, beauty pageants, such as Miss World and Miss Universe, have also changed with the times.

Thuzar Wint Lwin at the Miss Universe pageant. Credit: Getty Images

So why are we discussing a beauty pageants in a political and international affairs column? Well, because one contestant at the Miss Universe pageant used the platform to speak up about an issue affecting the people of her country – Myanmar.

Thuzar Wint Lwin got on stage and unveiled a small scroll which read ‘Pray for Myanmar’. This isn’t the first time she has spoken up about the clashes between citizens and the military in the country, and nor is she the first person to bring this issue to the forefront.

So what’s really going on in Myanmar? Why are people protesting and what is causing violent clashes? Let’s dive in.

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is in South East Asia, and neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India. It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom are Burmese speakers, although other languages are also spoken. The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims – a stateless predominantly-Muslim community. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government brought with it a return to civilian rule.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

Why is Myanmar also known as Burma? Well, when the military was in control earlier, they changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. Myanmar is the more accepted name now.

Coups and protests

Mass protests have been happening across Myanmar since the military seized control, once again, on February 1. It detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The military also declared a year-long state of emergency.

Who is Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi.
Credit: Wikipedia

Aung San Suu Kyi became known around the world for campaigning to restore democracy in Myanmar. She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest. In 2015, she led the NLD to victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years. However, Suu Kyi’s reputation suffered greatly due to Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya community. Myanmar considers them ‘illegal immigrants‘ and denies them citizenship. Over decades, many have fled the country to escape persecution.

After a general election in which the NLD won by a huge margin, the armed forces claimed that this was the result of widespread fraud. Though the election commission, which sets rules and guidelines for the conducting of elections, said there was no evidence to support these claims, the military took over just as a new session of parliament was set to open.

Suu Kyi has been held at an unknown location since the coup, and is facing various legal charges. Her party members, who were also taken into custody, managed to escape and formed a new group in hiding, which urges citizens to fight back against the military regime.  

Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Credit: South China Morning Post

Who is in charge now?

Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Apart from being slammed for the military coup, Hlaing has received international criticism for his alleged role in attacks on ethnic minorities. In his first public statement after the coup, he said the military was on the side of the people, and would form a “true and disciplined democracy”.

How have people reacted?

The people of Myanmar aren’t happy, and for good reason. The military quickly seized control of the country’s infrastructure, suspending most television broadcasts and cancelling domestic and international flights.

Thousands of citizens take to the street to protest the military takeover. Credit: AP

Telephone and internet access was suspended in major cities, the stock market and commercial banks were closed too. Repeated violent clashes have resulted in several innocent deaths too. On March 27, the military killed more than 600 people and assaulted, detained or tortured thousands of others, according to reports.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

The recent protests over the coup have been the largest since the ‘Saffron Revolution’ in 2007, when thousands of monks protested against the military regime.

After weeks of peaceful protests, the citizens decided to retaliate by forming an army of sorts of their own. In the cities, protesters have built barricades to protect neighbourhoods from military attacks. They are even learning to make weapons and training in different techniques to get back at the armed forces, which has used water cannon, rubber bullets and live ammunition on protesters.

How the world reacted to the coup

Numerous countries have condemned the military takeover and crackdown. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the security forces of a “reign of terror”.  China backed efforts for the release of Suu Kyi and a return to democratic norms. The country has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar. Meanwhile, other South East Asian countries have been making diplomatic efforts to end the crisis.

Do you think the armed forces can bring about democracy in Myanmar? We’d love to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments below!

(Law and Order is a weekly column that covers what’s happening in the world of politics, law and international affairs)

Sources: The New York Times, Indian Express, BBC, Vice