Burma, a fragile democracy overthrown by the army

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Burma, where the army has just carried out a coup, emerged just 10 years ago from a military regime that had been in power for almost half a century.

• Read also: EU “strongly condemns” coup in Burma

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Under the control of the military

In 1886, the British annexed Burma which became a province of the Indian Empire. But their domination collapsed with the Japanese invasion (1942-45).

On January 4, 1948, the Republic of the Union of Burma celebrated its independence, a year after the assassination of General Aung San, national hero. His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, will become the leading figure in the opposition and will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

In 1962, a coup d’état brought the military to power.

In August 1988, a popular uprising calling for more democracy was bloodily suppressed, killing around 3000 people. This event, which ended in a putsch, marked the entry into politics of Aung San Suu Kyi, placed a few months later under house arrest. In May 1990, his newly created party, the National League for Democracy (LND), won elections. But the junta refuses to recognize the results.

Finally released in 2010, she was elected deputy in 2012, a year after the junta’s surprise self-dissolution.

A series of political and economic reforms allow the lifting of most Western sanctions.

In November 2015, the LND won a historic victory in the first free general elections since 1990. In April 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is prevented by the Constitution from taking up the presidency because she was married to a foreigner, became de facto the head of government.

On November 8, 2020, his party won the legislative elections with flying colors, but the military said the ballot was marred by massive fraud.

Rohingya crisis

In this predominantly Buddhist country, the Muslim minority of the Rohingya has long faced inter-communal violence and discriminatory laws.

In August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled Burma, after an army crackdown in retaliation for attacks on border posts by rebels.

Since then, around 750,000 members of this community have taken refuge in Bangladesh to flee the abuses of the army and Buddhist militias, a tragedy which has led Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to be accused of “genocide” before the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial body of the United Nations.

Some 600,000 members of this minority still live in Rakhine State (north-west), in “apartheid” conditions, according to Amnesty International.

Burma also faces conflict in its border regions where the military clashes with several of the country’s many other ethnic minorities.

In October 2015, the authorities signed a ceasefire with several rebel groups, but the process has stalled and a nationwide agreement has yet to be reached.

Poor but rich in natural resources

After almost half a century of military rule, Burma began to open up in 2011. Since then, investments have poured in, totaling around $ 50 billion in 2019, half of which went to the United States alone. city ​​of Yangon, the economic capital of the country, according to the firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

While the standard of living has increased for many Burmese, a third of the population still lives in poverty and the infrastructure is still dilapidated.

The country has significant natural resources, in particular jade, of which it is the world’s largest producer, but also oil and natural gas, precious woods, rubies, gold, copper …

It is also the world’s second largest producer of opium, the base for heroin, behind Afghanistan. In recent years, Southeast Asia has also become the global epicenter of synthetic drug trafficking, with revenues reaching tens of billions of euros per year (UN, 2019).

Most of the drugs come from clandestine laboratories in Shan State (northern Burma).


Burma, with a population of 54 million (World Bank, 2019) is hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. With more than 140,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths officially recorded, the situation in this country with a failing health system is one of the most worrying in the region.

With an area of ​​676,552 km2, Burma has common borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. In 2005, the country acquired a new capital, Naypyidaw.

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