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Erik Martinez Kuhonta is the director of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar will mark the second anniversary of the coup that toppled the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Since the coup, the military has conducted a scorched earth policy that has included the mass killings of civilian adults and children, torture, sexual violence and arson. At least 2,300 people have been killed and over 16,000 people have been arrested. More than 1.1 million people have been displaced and 70,000 have fled the country.

While these grim statistics serve as a reminder of the brutality of the military, known as the Tatmadaw, the notable aspect of this conflict is that the armed forces have not achieved their aim of subjugating the civilian opposition. On the contrary, the aftermath of the coup has led to a stalemate between a frustrated military unable to gain complete control of the country and a tenacious opposition that has continued to resist and thwart the junta.

Unlike past coups in Myanmar’s history, the February, 2021, putsch sparked a massive opposition movement that has combined civilian non-compliance, armed resistance and gutsy diplomatic manoeuvres. The combination of these measures has felled the junta’s plans of easy domination.

The initial response to the coup included mass protests on the streets, as well as a civil disobedience movement, known as the CDM. The CDM began in Myanmar’s second-largest city, Mandalay, the day after the coup. Doctors walked out of their hospitals and refused to work. Subsequently, civil servants, teachers, railroad workers, health care workers and diplomats sought to bring the country and its economy to a standstill by refusing to return to their places of work. Some of the largest demonstrations in Myanmar’s history also paralyzed the country. But these protests incurred heavy casualties, as the military had no restraint from firing at unarmed civilians.

As the conflict escalated, the government in exile, known as the National Unity Government, declared in May, 2021, that it would take up arms against the military. Although heavily outgunned and lacking in proper training, a motley combination of students, farmers and urban professionals joined the militia, known as the People’s Defence Force. Estimated to now number about 65,000 soldiers, the militia has also been sheltered by some of the ethnic armed organizations on the peripheries of the country, especially in the north and the east. Since the arming of civilian forces, the struggle has turned into a veritable civil war, one that the former UN human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet has warned could end up similar to the conflagration in Syria.

In the realm of diplomacy, the National Unity Government has pushed back on numerous fronts. Crucially, it has been successful in holding onto its seat at the United Nations. With a strong show of defiance, including the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun refused to cede his seat to a representative of the junta. The Credentials Committee that decides who should represent a country at the UN twice decided to defer a final decision as to who should hold the seat, in effect allowing the current ambassador to continue in his position. This is significant geopolitically, given the fact that Russia and China are both members of the Credentials Committee.

At the regional level, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) developed a Five-Point Peace Plan that emphasizes cessation of violence and dialogue among warring parties. The junta has staunchly refused to abide by the plan, thus showcasing, two years on, the inability of ASEAN in effecting change on a recalcitrant member state. ASEAN’s response to this failure has been to ban Myanmar from its high-level meetings, which is unprecedented. Indonesia, which currently holds the organization’s chairmanship position, has floated the idea of expanding Myanmar’s ban to all ASEAN meetings.

As for China, its expected diplomatic backing of the Myanmar junta has been relatively restrained. Although along with Russia and India it abstained from a recent UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the violence and the release of all political prisoners, it has not actively championed the position of the generals. In fact, no top leader from China has so far met with the mastermind of the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing. China also refused to respond to Myanmar’s invitation to attend the Lancang-Mekong Co-operation summit, thus scuttling the high-level meeting. This lukewarm attitude toward the junta suggests that Ms. Suu Kyi’s earlier efforts to court Xi Jinping may have yielded some dividends.

Despite General Min Aung Hlaing calling for elections within the next six months, the path to the restoration of democracy and stability remains very far in the distance. The opposition appears entrenched in their fight against the military in a manner that is unprecedented in the country’s modern history. Having tasted democracy for several years before the coup and determined not to allow the military’s brutality to gain the upper hand, the civilian opposition’s resistance is likely to determine Myanmar’s future, rather than the crude violence the junta exercises.

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