A strangely familiar sight dominated the front pages of Myanmar’s state-owned newspaper this week: photos of men in green military uniforms sitting in seats of power.
It was as if time had rewound a decade. “The Global New Light of Myanmar” has long been considered the mouthpiece for whoever is running the country, its pages dedicated to government propaganda and stiff images of officials on mundane visits to agricultural or development projects.
From 1962 until 2011, successive military regimes ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, with an iron fist – asserting their absolute power over the people through fear and brutality.
But six years ago, there was hope of change when Aung San Suu Kyi – a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner – formed the first civilian government with her National League for Democracy Party (NLD) after winning a landslide in elections.
That all changed Monday, when the military seized power in a coup, arrested 75-year-old Suu Kyi, cut internet services and took news channels off the air. A presenter on the military-owned news channel announced that the 64-year-old commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing was now running the country.
“Senior General makes speech at government meeting” was Wednesday’s “New Light” headline, a sign that Myanmar is now back under military rule, at least for the next 12 months.
Devastated residents in the country’s biggest city, Yangon, said history was repeating itself. With many still bearing the mental and physical scars of the past, they expressed fears that the intervening years were all for nothing.
Myanmar has changed markedly in the years since the military last ruled, with more social freedoms, foreign investment and a growing middle class. For example, SIM cards that used to cost $1,000 a decade ago are now cheap and ubiquitous, and the population has quickly moved online with social media sites like Facebook synonymous with the internet.
While deep economic and inequality issues, conflict, and ethnic strife remain, Myanmar is a different place today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, especially in the major cities.
But the imperfect transition was not working for everyone.