It was mere months ago that a country’s commander in chief, having lost a hard-fought election, blamed voter fraud for his party’s failure and justified overturning the election results via force.
Only this coup was not carried out by baristas posting as QAnon shamen or flag-wielding MAGA enthusiasts. It was carried out by the Myanmar military, which took control of the country in a predawn coup on Feb. 1 after detaining State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“I believe that a free and fair election is the lifeblood of the multiparty democracy system,” said Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of Myanmar’s military, in a speech after the coup.
‘Concerned for voting fraud’
Earlier, the incumbent National League for Democracy Party had captured 396 out of 476 seats, handing control to Suu Kyi for another five years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 33 seats, triggering Min Aung Hlaing’s declarations of voter fraud.
Even after Myanmar, formerly Burma, transitioned to democracy a decade ago, the military still has enormous political influence — for instance, the nation’s constitution still guarantees the military a quarter of the seats in parliament.
“Authorities concerned for voting fraud are under investigation now,” said the new dictator, adding, “Incorrect voting results and the results came out from the statistics which can be fraud can bring obstacles for the strengthening of a democratic system aspired by the people.”
The election in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) took place just as U.S. President Donald Trump began fomenting wild conspiracy theories that his Nov. 3 election had been “stolen” by Democrats. Trump spent two months lying about voter fraud on Twitter and trying to intimidate local election officials before finally inciting his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overturn the results of the Electoral College.
In mirroring Trump’s bogus claims about voter fraud, it is clear Min Aung Hlaing had been watching the U.S. president — even though claims of fraud at the polls in Myanmar were just as specious. Days after the Nov. 8 election, The Carter Center — an election observer founded by former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter — declared that in Myanmar, “voters were able to freely express their will at the polls and choose their elected representatives.”
The Biden administration has announced that it would block the Myanmar generals from accessing $1 billion in government funds held in the United States, and that an executive order would pave the way for sanctions on the military leaders who directed the coup, along with their close family members and affiliated business interests.
The Trump tactics are all there in Myanmar. For instance, on days in which the military lifts its internet ban, social media is typically flooded with state-sponsored disinformation that appears calculated to spread fear about the dangers of protesting.
Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of brave protesters have taken to the streets in vocal protest of the military dictatorship. The country’s citizens have seen tanks roll through places like Yangon, the capital city, to intimidate them. Initially, the military had held protesters at bay with water cannons and rubber bullets — further reports are surfacing that police are beginning to fire live rounds into groups gathered to protest. A 19-year-old young woman died Friday from one of those rounds. She is the first protester to die.
‘Hunger Games’ and ‘fake news’
Yet the citizens continue to revolt, often in fashions stolen from Western culture. The official signal of the pro-democracy protesters is the three-finger salute made popular in the “Hunger Games” movies. Demonstrators carry around signs calling military-owned news organizations “fake news” and using English four-letter words to tell the Tatmadaw (the military) leaders what they can do to themselves.
Young people in the streets, armed with social media and cellphones, have fomented an often festive atmosphere in the face of the military crackdown, where women in wedding dresses, bodybuilders, “golden retriever aficionados” and even some police have joined the demonstrations. Just days ago, a man dressed as Batman faced down tanks in Yangon.
Conversely, America has seen its elected officials cower in the face of thuggery:
►This week, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told a talk show host that the storming of the U.S. Capitol that left several people dead “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection.”
►Former Vice President Mike Pence, who was the target of rioters looking to hang him, still hasn’t said a word about his former president endangering his life.
►And, of course, 43 Republican senators sided with the insurrectionists, voting to acquit Trump of a charge of inciting the mob during his impeachment trial.
Had Trump gotten his way, these Republicans would be happy to gaslight Americans about what truly took place — just like the military junta in Myanmar has barred publications from referring to the takeover as a “coup,” Republicans like Johnson would try to erase the Capitol insurrection from the history books.
While brave protesters take to the streets to promote democracy in Asian countries, powerful elected officials in America hide to protect themselves from a primary opponent. And you can bet, while U.S. citizens looked on at the attempted Trump coup in horror, other aspiring dictators are seeing only inspiration.
Christian Schneider, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, is a senior reporter at The College Fix, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and author of “1916: The Blog.” Follow him on Twitter: @Schneider_CM