President Joe Biden sent out a stern statement voicing consternation toward a military coup in Burma this week, threatening economic sanctions to the country if it did not return power to the duly elected government that was recently chosen by its people.
The coup in Burma (also known as Myanmar) happened early on Monday morning (Sunday evening in the United States). The nation’s military arrested civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and announced that there would be a one-year state of emergency. The announcement, which was broadcast on state television Monday, means the power of the government will be transferred to the nation’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing, during that time, and perhaps longer.
The White House sent out a message on Sunday evening decrying the military takeover of the southeast Asian country.
“We continue to affirm our strong support for Burma’s democratic institutions and, in coordination with our regional partners, urge the military and all other parties to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, and to release those detained today,” a statement from Press Secretary Jen Psaki read.
Psaki added that “any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition” would result in the U.S. taking “action against those responsible.”
Biden himself laid out some idea of what those actions could look like, making reference to economic penalties that had been removed from the country over the past several years.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy,” Biden said in a statement. “The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.”
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who, since becoming leader of her nation, has also been accused of being complicit in her country’s military genocide on Rohingya Muslims, recently had a major electoral victory, as her political party, National League for Democracy, had won 396 seats out of 476 in the national legislature. By comparison, the military-backed party only won 33 seats.
The Burmese military announced the coup after making claims of election fraud following the outcome of those races. Burma’s election commission had dismissed those claims as baseless last week.
The claims of election fraud in order to justify overthrowing the election results mirrors, in some ways, the same type of rhetoric that former President Donald Trump had been using in the months leading up to and on the same day that a mob of his loyalists violently stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., early last month. Indeed, as Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas explained on Monday, it is possible the military in Burma copied Trump’s false claims of fraud to serve their own purposes.
“A friend who lives in Yangon texted me saying that the generals were likely emboldened by Trump’s playbook, as they used false claims of widespread election fraud as a pretext to seize power,” Klaas, who is also an associate professor in Global Politics at University College London, said in a tweet.