Trump's baseless claims of election fraud gave 'fresh rhetorical ammunition' to despots like Myanmar's generals, who just staged a coup

  • Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected government on Monday. 
  • The country’s military predicated the coup on baseless allegations of voter fraud. 
  • Experts noted the parallels to former President Trump, stating he’s provided “rhetorical ammunition” for despots worldwide.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As Americans woke up to the news of a military-orchestrated coup in Myanmar on Monday, it’s conceivable that many viewed the latest overthrow of a democratically-elected government with a new set of eyes given the unsettling events in the Southeast Asian country occurred just weeks after a violent insurrection at the US Capitol. 

Myanmar’s generals also predicated the coup on eerily similar grounds to former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 US election: baseless claims of voter fraud. Experts say the parallel is hard to ignore, while cautioning that democracy was always on shaky ground in Myanmar. 

“It wouldn’t be surprising if the generals in Myanmar saw Trump’s false accusations of widespread fraud after the election and decided to use a similar approach as a pretext for something they were already planning to do: seize power,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist at the University College London, told Insider. “In that way, Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions.”

After decades of rule under a military dictatorship, the foundations of Myanmar’s tenuous democracy were laid via reforms in 2011.

“Although there are some similarities to unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the US, the coup in Myanmar should be seen as emerging from its own domestic context,” Lucas Myers, a program associate at the Wilson Center’s Asia Program, told Insider. “It firmly shows the precarious state of the troubled democratic transition in Myanmar and how limited the democratization had truly been.”

In Myanmar’s November elections, the military’s proxy party suffered an overwhelming defeat to the leading civilian party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military responded with allegations of fraud, which spiraled into threats to “take action” and culminated with the coup on Monday. The country’s election commission found no evidence to support the military’s claims of election fraud, but the military has insisted its overthrow of the government occurred on legal and constitutional grounds. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD and de facto civilian ruler of Myanmar, was detained early on Monday along with other top politicians. The military has declared a one-year state of emergency, stating that it will hold multiparty elections at the end of that period.  

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told USA Today that the military’s claims of electoral irregularities were “positively Trumpian, made without clear evidence and based on an alternative narrative that no one outside the military believes for a second.” Robertson said the military’s assertions it will support new free and fair elections is “a ruse that should not be believed”

‘Coup plotters do take cues from other countries’

The coup, which came shortly before the first session of parliament since November’s elections, returns Myanmar to full military control after barely half a decade of semi-democracy. 

Much of the world, including the US, looked on with hope when Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s civilian leader when landmark parliamentary elections were held in 2015. But the relatively recent democratic reforms in Myanmar did not include placing the military under civilian control, and the armed forces continued to wield significant power — including holding a quarter of parliamentary seats under the 2008 constitution. 

Suu Kyi’s divisive legacy is emblematic of the convoluted state of Myanmar’s politics and the ongoing influence of the military. She was under house arrest for 15 years as she opposed military rule in her country, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 over her nonviolent resistance of the junta. But since becoming Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader, Suu Kyi has been lambasted across the world for standing by the military in spite of its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority.

“Civil-military relations in a coup-prone country like Myanmar are complex,” Klaas said. “Donald Trump didn’t cause the coup in Myanmar, nor did he fundamentally alter the calculations of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) in terms of their decision to take power. But generals and coup plotters do take cues from other countries as to how to justify an act of political violence.”

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