'I hope for democracy in my country': Myanmar nationals in S'pore speak out amid shock over military coup

They want their State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to be released.

Kayla Wong | February 01, 2021, 10:56 PM

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Myanmar nationals in Singapore were left in a state of shock, sadness and anger when they learnt of the pre-dawn raids that saw their de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrested, and the military seizing power in a coup.

Communications cut and banks closed

Myanmar president Win Myint, as well as several members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested too.

The arrests took place hours before a new parliament was to be sworn in for the coming five-year term, which was a time when most of the NLD's leadership were present in Naypyidaw.

Mobile internet data connections and some phone services have reportedly been cut in some parts of the country as well.

Worried for family when they couldn't be reached

Nway, 32, told Mothership that she thinks communications were cut by the military in order to prevent citizens from reaching people outside of Myanmar.

While she is able to contact her family in Myanmar now, she said she was unable to reach them earlier n the afternoon, which made her worry about their safety.

Khin, 30, who has been working in Singapore as a programmer for the past three years, is able to contact her family back home.

But she said telecommunications in the country had been cut off this morning until the military made the announcement on military-owned TV channel Myawaddy TV that they would take control of the country for a year.

She added that while telecommunication services were restored subsequently, all banks and ATM machines remained closed.

Coup was unexpected

The five Myanmar nationals that Mothership spoke to said even though they heard of rumours of a military coup -- which were dismissed by the military over the weekend -- they had not expected it to take place at all.

This was why they were extremely shocked to learn of the development.

Thein, 60, who has been living and working as a chemist in Singapore for the past few decades, said she was so taken aback by the news that she took a day off work this morning just to keep an eye on the situation.

She told Mothership that she has been listening to speeches made by NLD's leaders -- not all of them were arrested, and some were later released by the military -- as she wanted to hear what they had to say.

The NLD had released a statement on behalf of Suu Kyi, who condemned the military for their actions that "put the country back under a dictatorship".

The statement, which AFP said was issued preemptively by Suu Kyi before she was detained, said: "I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly protest against the coup by the military."

NLD supporters call for people to remain calm

Khin told Mothership most of the Myanmar nationals she knew interpreted the statement as Suu Kyi calling for the people to voice their opposition to the coup in a peaceful manner.

Comments on the party's Facebook page expressed the same sentiments too, with one saying:

"(Spokesperson) Myo Nyunt has called for NLD party supporters to calm down and stay indoors. The military want people to protest against them, and will try to make them do so. They want riots to happen so they can justify taking the country.

Myo Nyunt also said NLD will abide by the law. So please stay at home and support NLD by hanging the NLD flags and protect yourselves from Covid-19. This is a critical moment, so don't do anything that might create troubles for our Mother Suu."

Suu Kyi, whose father was Myanmar's independence hero, General Aung San, is highly revered in Myanmar, where many see her as the mother of the nation.

This contrasts sharply with her image overseas, which has taken a hit due to criticisms that she failed to protect the Rohingya ethnic minority in the country.

Hope for democracy in Myanmar

Thein also expressed her hope for Myanmar's political future, saying: "I hope for democracy in my country one day."

Others, such as Nway and her friend, 31-year-old Su, said they hoped to see help from the United Nations (UN) and other countries in the form of external pressure on the military government.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a statement issued on Feb. 1, had voiced his "grave concern" regarding the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military.

"These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in the strongest statement from a foreign nation yet, had called for Myanmar's military to release Suu Kyi and reverse their actions "immediately", adding that the U.S. stands with the people of Myanmar in their "aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development".

However, it is unclear how far these statements could go in coercing the military to return power to the democratically elected government led by Suu Kyi.

Still, despite feeling a sense of hopelessness regarding the situation, some Myanmar nationals in Singapore would like to retain some optimism for the future.

Meme, 32, who works as a computer engineer, said: "I hope our State Counsellor and other NLD members will be freed soon, and also to see democracy in Myanmar."

When asked what she would like to see from other countries, she said: "Please help us and save Myanmar from dictatorship."

"History is about to be repeated in 2021 like in 1988," she added.

"We can't let it happen again, so please help us spread what's happening in Myanmar right now."

Top image adapted via STR/AFP & Frank van Beek/UN Photo/ICJ/AFP via Getty Images