Early this month, Myanmar’s armed forces took control of the country. Moving overnight, they detained most leading politicians and many civil-society activists, barricaded roads, cut off internet access, arrested people in the darkness, and made an announcement of the coup on state television. In the weeks since, the generals have declared a curfew, blocked foreign social media platforms, put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and this past weekend the authorities killed at least eighteen people on Sunday.

Military dictatorships are nowhere near as common as they were during the Cold War, and leaders trying to roll back democracy today usually do so in creeping ways, by altering legal systems, voting rules and other institutions to give themselves greater power. This has been the path of illiberal bosses like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. They have whittled away at norms and institutions to centralize their authority—and Orban and Erdogan have become outright autocrats. They had the patience to undermine democracy by slowly suffocating it.

And yet coups have not only lingered; they’ve become more effective in the past decade. Egypt’s military overthrew its government in 2013, Thailand’s in 2014, Zimbabwe’s in 2017, Sudan’s and Algeria’s in 2019, and Mali’s in 2020. In some countries that seemed to have moved beyond putsches, military meddling has returned—such as in Bolivia, even if the generals didn’t complete an outright takeover in that country’s 2019 political crisis. Successful coups have increased from lows in the early 2000s to higher numbers in the 2010s. Now, in 2021, Myanmar’s military also has staged a successful coup. Although there were forty-seven coups and attempted coups in the 2010s compared with seventy-six in the 2000s, according to a database created by the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Illinois, “coups over the last decade or so have a far higher success rate than in previous periods,” according to an analysis by Clayton Thyne and Jonathan Powell, two leading scholars. Their calculations did not include 2020 and 2021, but there have already been two takeovers in that period.

Joshua Kurlantzick
For more on the persistence of coups, and their success, see Joshua Kurlantzick’s Washington Post Outlook article

Republished from Asia Unbound blog, Council on Foreign Relations
Banner: Licence-built Thunder armoured personnel carrier of Myanmar Army patroling after the coup:
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Joshua Kurlantzick

Posted by Joshua Kurlantzick

Joshua Kurlantzick is senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is the author, most recently, of "A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA". Kurlantzick was previously a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he studied Southeast Asian politics and economics and China's relations with Southeast Asia, including Chinese investment, aid, and diplomacy. Previously, he was a fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy. He is currently focused on China’s relations with Southeast Asia, and China’s approach to soft and sharp power, including state-backed media and information efforts and other components of soft and sharp power. He is also working on issues related to the rise of global populism, populism in Asia, and the impact of COVID-19 on illiberal populism and political freedom overall.