In Myanmar, COVID-19 Poses Greatest Risk to Democracy

While Myanmar’s COVID-19 death toll of six is comparatively low, its fledgling civilian government is at risk of collapsing due to the novel coronavirus. With Myanmar’s military still controlling 25 percent of its parliament and a history of brutal crackdowns—not to mention the recent Rohingya crisis—COVID-19 is exacerbating the precarious balance between the military and civilians in power.

In March, Myanmar’s first COVID-19 case opened the door for a potential military takeover. In response, the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party attempted to activate the National Defense and Security Council, which would allow Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, to take executive emergency action. While ultimately a joint civilian-military Emergency Response Committee was formed to address the pandemic, the five-year-old democratic government is not in the clear.

The pandemic has already caused an increase in military or government control in many other countries. Spain used emergency powers to take over all private hospitals. Israel is employing the Shin Bet, its internal security agency, to track citizens via cellphones to enforce quarantines. Romania canceled its elections earlier this year. Ethiopia postponed elections. Numerous other countries have declared states of emergency or authorized emergency powers. …

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