Burmese NIU Professor Reflects On Civilian Protests To Myanmar Military Coup

Feb 22, 2021

Tharaphi Than is Associate Professor of World Languages and Cultures at Northern Illinois University.
Credit Northern Illinois University

Domestic protests continue against the military coup in Myanmar. A Northern Illinois University professor hopes they will lead to a democratic transition.

For decades, the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar was controlled by a military junta. This regime held free elections in 1990. That’s when democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority of seats. But the military didn’t cede power for nearly two more decades. 

Earlier this month, the military took back control of the government citing voter fraud in the November elections. To NIU Assistant Professor and native Burmese Tharaphi Than, the protests are more than a power struggle.

She said protesters are fighting to release all religious, social and political leaders and reinstate democracy. But that’s not all. 

“Young people are also pushing to abolish the 2008 constitution that enables this kind of coup and doesn’t guarantee rights for everyone… particularly minority groups and the marginalized," Than said. 

She hopes that the military government will respond to domestic and international pressure and release their hold on power.

 

Than said government policies have negatively impacted or outright displaced minority populations such as the Rohingya.

 

“Together we can stop the longest going civil war in the world and also all the marginalized groups like Rohingya can live with dignity in the country."

Than also suggested the change in government could hurt Myanmar’s diplomatic relations with its neighbors, such as China.

 

“All their investment -- like government factories and telecommunications -- all of those would be at stake if the relationship broke down. So China has as much interest as the U.S. to restore peace and democracy in the country.”

To Than, the protests in Myanmar are more than a news headline, and reflect movements closer to home. 

 

“This is about joining in solidarity with people who are demanding the same things the U.S.-marginalized minorities are demanding”. 

The course of the protests and what actions the international community will take in response remains to be seen.