SINGAPORE — There is "no future" in Myanmar's military taking over the country again, said Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (2 March).
"Now, after all that journey to a civilian government, albeit with a big military influence in the system, to have to go back and have the military take over again – it may or may not be according to the Constitution – but it is an enormous tragic step back for them," he said during an interview with BBC's Talking Business Asia.
"Because there is no future that way. They knew that, that was why they moved forward into elections and a civilian government," he added.
Myanmar has been facing increasingly deadly protests following the 1 February coup by its armed forces, the Tatmadaw, which saw many of the country's civilian leaders, including State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, detained. At least 18 people have died so far, with many nations including Singapore having called for the cessation of the military's use of lethal force against protesters.
Lee suggested the one solution out of the crisis would be for Suu Kyi and the other leaders to be released and for the military to "negotiate with her and her team, and work out a peaceful way forward for Myanmar". He noted, however, that outsiders would have "very little influence" over such a decision.
"You can ostracise them, condemn them, and pass resolutions or not, but it really has very little influence on what the Myanmars will do. It had zero influence the last time round, and the only impact was...they fell back on those people who were willing to talk to them, which was China, and to some extent, India.
"It was an uncomfortable position for them, but it did not cause them to decide that they must do what the Americans, Europeans, or even the Asean countries, would have preferred them to do," said Lee.
On the issue of international sanctions, Lee said such measures would likely hurt the Myanmar population – not its military or generals – by depriving them of food, medicine, essentials, and opportunities for education.
"I think we have to be realistic about this. We have to express disapproval for what is done... But to say that I will take action against them, where does this lead? Now, the demonstrators are saying military intervention in Myanmar? Is the 82nd Airborne going to arrive?" he said.
Lethal force 'not acceptable'
Lee also noted that Myanmar's "tragic" current situation recalled the military's 1988 takeover and imposition of martial law following major riots.
"They (then) decided that that was not tenable. They made a 7-Step Roadmap to Democracy, and they told the world that was what they wanted to do. We were all sceptical, but they were serious about it, and they did move in that direction systematically, and eventually held elections," he said.
Calling the Myanmar military's use of lethal force against civilians and unarmed protesters "not acceptable", Lee added that such actions are "disastrous" for the country both internationally and domestically as it means everyone in the country knows what is going on.
"You may try to squeeze down the internet, but news gets around, and the Myanmar population knows who is on their side. If they decide that the government is not on their side, I think the government has a very big problem," he said.
Despite the "bad things" that have taken place in Myanmar, Lee expressed optimism that sense would eventually prevail. "It may take quite a long time, but it can happen. It has happened before," he said.
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