City News

Sydney Burmese community rally against coup

A Burmese activist addresses the crowd at Martin Place. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

With just a day’s notice, hundreds of members of Sydney’s Burmese community gathered at Martin Place on Wednesday to raise awareness about the unfolding coup in Myanmar.

On Monday, Myanmar’s military detained Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected civilian leader, and declared a year long state of emergency in a television announcement. Other top government officials and members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party were also taken into military custody. 

The NLD won the November 2020 election with 83 percent of the vote and won 396 out of 476 seats. However, following the election the political arm of the country’s military immediately claimed the elections were fraudulent. Foreign observers and the country’s electoral commission determined there had been no significant problems.

“I urge people not to accept the coup by the military, and resist it resoundingly,” Ms. Suu Kyi wrote on the NLD’s Facebook page following the military raids.

Hearing the party’s call, supporters of the NLD and Ms. Suu Kyi have staged protests around the world. Including the one in Martin Place this week. 

Jamie Parker, Greens member for Balmain, was one of the founding members of the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma. He visited Burma in 2015 to act as an unofficial election monitor. In 2015 the NLD won 77 percent of the seats in Parliament in the country’s first “free and fair” election in 25 years. 

Speaking at Wednesday’s rally Mr. Parker said it was important Burmese communities around the world gather to “speak up for those people in Myanmar who can’t speak” and to “protest for those people who are in fear for their lives.”

“People, whether they’re in Yangon or whether they’re in Mandalay, will see that the world cares,” Mr. Parker told City Hub.

“Second we’re saying to our government that we need targeted sanctions against the military, against their economic entities and against their private interests.”

Australia’s role

Australian Defence Force troops have provided training, assistance and English lessons to members of Myanmar’s military for several years. In fact, budget documents show Australia has spent $1.5 million on the country’s armed forces over the past 5 years. The budgeted spend on Myanmar’s military for the 2020 to 2021 financial year was $361,000. 

“We know the leaders of the military have family here, have property here and have assets. They should be seized and we shouldn’t be releasing any of those assets until they’ve released the people of Myanmar,” Mr. Parker said.

“We should be supporting democracies not undermining them.”

After the 2015 election in Myanmar, the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma wrapped up their work and donated the money they had left. Mr. Parker said it was a “fantastic organisation” made up of many different groups and they were “delighted” to finish up their work. However, given recent events, he says the group will be coming back together.

“It’s an amazing feeling when you finish a campaign and you close, this was a successful end to our campaign, but we will be sadly having to be reconstituting to press again for similar things,” he said.

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