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(Indonesia which geographically spans Asia and Australasia, but politically is an Asian power, is included here, as is resistance to Indonesian rule in Aceh, East Timor and West Papua.)

It was in Asia that key theorists of two types of popular struggle emerged in the first half of the 20th century: Gandhi’s satyagraha in India and Mao’s guerrilla warfare in China. Forms of guerrilla warfare were widely used until the 1970s in struggles against colonialism and western intervention (notably in Vietnam). Armed violence has also been a resort for some minorities demanding independence (as in Burma) or those resisting major social injustice (for example the Naxalites in India).

Nevertheless, there have been significant nonviolent movements in Asia, both in India where the Gandhian legacy is still important, and notably in Burma and the Philippines. (NB Tibet is referenced under C. II.) In addition, the trend towards mass popular demonstrations to demand democracy since the 1970s (one cause of the ‘third wave’ of democratization in the last part of the century), was reflected in Asia in unarmed and predominantly peaceful protests in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand. There were also significant civilian protests against military rule in Pakistan, and although these sometimes included street fighting, they also involved a range of nonviolent methods such as boycotts and civil disobedience.

One interesting development in the last two decades has been that a number of guerrilla movements have decided to turn towards unarmed, instead of armed, resistance. Four examples included here are: East Timor and Nepal (2006) where unarmed resistance proved effective, and Kashmir, where so far it has not, and West Papua where forms of unarmed protest on specific issues appear to have achieved more than the largely token armed resistance.

A useful source for researching particular campaigns in Asia is: Far Eastern Economic Review, which carries frequent, but usually brief reports on important developments. More general sources are the International Crisis Group reports and World Today (for brief but prompt reports).

Asian Survey is an academic journal which publishes broader political assessments. For a more radical perspective see: Critical Asian Studies, published by Routledge (formerly Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars).

India is not included here, despite the great number of the post-independence nonviolent campaigns. These have more the character of social movements and will feature in the second volume. The 1970s campaign against corruption and then against the 1975-77 State of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi is, however, relevant to this section. The painful splits it caused between Gandhians have hampered subsequent study of J.P. Narayan’s call for ‘Total Revolution’, but there is one detailed study of the movement:

Ostergaard, Geoffrey, Nonviolent Revolution in India, New Delhi, Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1985, pp. 419

Especially chapters 4 to 7.

Burma gained independence from the British immediately after the Second World War, and after a period of civilian government has been subjected to a series of military regimes. There has been continuing guerrilla warfare by national minorities in Burma since independence, and protests by students, monks, farmers and workers occurred at various stages in the 1960s and 1970s, but opposition was largely driven underground and large open protests were very dangerous (see Boudreau, Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia (E. II.2.a. The Long Struggle to Topple Suharto 1988-1998) , below – pp. 84-102 ‘Protest in Socialist Burma’.) But in 1988 there was mass unarmed resistance to military dictatorship, which met with brutal repression. Ever since the peaceful opposition has been led and symbolized by Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of the leader of Burma’s [eventually] armed struggle for independence), who (with qualifications) endorses a Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence. Her party, the National League for Democracy, was elected by a clear majority in elections held in 1990, despite harassment by the military, but the junta then refused to recognize the results, and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest. She remained under house arrest for long periods – and when released she tested the regime’s willingness for her to contact the people, and soon lost her liberty again.

A new wave of popular protests, sparked by severe economic problems for ordinary people and led by Buddhist monks, occurred in 2007. This movement was again severely crushed, but the regime did concede a new constitution and the holding of elections, which took place in 2010. Suu Kyi and her party boycotted the elections because she was unable to contest them – but some opposition candidates did stand. Since then there have been signs that the regime now headed by President Thein Sein might be willing to contemplate some reforms – perhaps to escape economic sanctions and reduce its reliance on China. A number of political prisoners were freed, Suu Kyi herself was also released from house arrest in 2010 and allowed to stand in parliamentary by-elections in April 2012, when she and members of her Party (the NLD) won 143 out of the 145 seats up for election. Although the regime still holds a bloc of seats in the Parliament, which in any case has limited powers, this has been seen as a significant move towards normalization and genuine civilian government.

After the military crackdown and bypassing of the 1990 election, Suu Kyi called for an economic and tourist boycott of Burma (officially Myanmar), and there was an international campaign in support of democracy in Burma. North American students in the 1990s spearheaded a campaign for disinvestment, persuading a significant number of major corporations to withdraw by using consumer boycotts and other forms of protest. Continuing boycott campaigns in the West also encouraged companies attracted to Burma by low wages, to pull out. Some individuals also entered Burma to demonstrate and hand out leaflets. (On this transnational campaign see Klein, Naomi , No Logo London, Flamingo, , 2000, pp. 512 , pp. 402-4 and pp. 410-16). Suu Kyi maintained her call for an international boycott until 2010 – despite divisions within the Burmese diaspora about this policy. But after her release in 2010 decided in the light of signs of political change to call instead for qualified international engagement with Burma, a message which other governments have responded to, particularly since the 2012 by-elections.

The Burmese military appear to have been influenced by the scale of Western economic boycotts, diplomatic isolation and a desire to avoid over-dependence on China, to move forward a degree of liberalisation. Rigged elections in 2010 (the first since the military nullified the vicotry of the NDL in 1990) resulted in a nominally civilian governement under the military approved Union Solidarity and Development Party. The new government began to release some political prisoners, allowed the formation of trade unions, and promoted ceasefires with some of the ethnic minorities engaged in armed resistance. The 2012 by-elecyions to parliament allowed Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD party to win 43 out of 44 seats, and Western governments and the EU engaged in negotiations with the regime. Human rights observers highlighted continuing forms of repression, and the 2008 Constitution ensured that not only are quarter of parlamentary deputies members of the armed forces, but that the Head of the Army appoints key cabinet posts such as Defence, the Interior, Border Control and the Police. But the military accepted the results of the general election in November 2015, which gave a landslide victory to the NLD. Suu Kyi is constitutionally debarred from Presidency because she married a foreigner, but vowed she would exercise de facto power and seek to amend the Constitution. The new NLD parliament met on 1 February 2016 and a new goverment took over in March 2016.

The election also, however, reflected the nationalistic religious intolerance fostered by the Ma Ba Tha movement. No Muslims were elected to parliament (the NLD failed to run any Muslim candidates) and the persecuted Muslim Rohingya in Western Rakhine state (attacked in race riots in 2012) were treated as non-citizens and denied the vote. Suu Kyi has been critized for failing to defend the rights of the Rohingya and Muslims more generally althought she suggested a NLD government would show tolerance. However, evidence of this in 2016 and 2017 has been poor.

The position of the mainly Muslim population of Rohingya in Burma's Rakhine state became catastrophic after the end of August 2017. Following decades of discrimination and persecution, including being denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar Nationality Act, Rohingya militants began to stage attacks against the authorities in 2016-17, and launched concerted attacks on security targets in late August. In response, the Burmese military undertook a campaign of systematic destruction, rape and murder of local villagers (described by the UN Human Rights Commissioner as ethnic cleansing), which drove out over 650,000 Rohingya by the end of the year, mostly into Bangladesh. Under the Burmese constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government have no control over the actions of the security forces, but she has been bitterly criticised for her failure to condemn the military actions publicly.

Sources on post-2010 developments are still limited. But see:

See also the updated version of Benedict Rogers, Burma (no. 589), published in paperback in 2015, which provides a historical overview including good coverage of the ethnic minorities and also explains recent developments, with a nuanced assessment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Popham, Peter, The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom, London, Rider, 2017, pp. 480

This follows-up to his eralier book The Lady and the Peacock and covers thew 2015 lanslide election and the expressions of intolerance against minorities, especially the Muslim Rohingya.

Andrieux, Aurelié ; Sarosi, Diana ; Moser-Puangsuwan, Yeshua, Speaking Truth to Power: The Methods of Nonviolent Struggle in Burma, Bangkok, Nonviolence International Southeast Asia, 2005, pp. 76

Lintner, Bertil, Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy, [1989], London and Bangkok, White Lotus, 1990, pp. 208

Covers the 1988 mass unarmed resistance and its suppression.

Oishi, Mikio, Creating a “Ripe moment” in the Burmese conflict through nonviolent action, Social Alternatives, Vol. 21, issue 2, 2002, pp. 52-60

see also  Oishi, Mikio , Nonviolent Struggle of the Burmese People for Democracy Durban, South Africa, , 1998 , a paper submitted to the 1998 International Peace Research Association Conference.

Rogers, Benedict, Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads, London, Rider, 2012, pp. 320

Suu Kyi, Aung SanAris, Michael, Freedom from Fear and Other Writings, ed. Aris, Michael, London, Vintage Books, 1991, pp. 338

See especially Suu Kyi’s writings on the democracy struggle in ‘Part II’, pp. 167-237, and essays by Josef Silverstein. ‘Aung San Suu Kyi: Is she Burma’s woman of destiny?’, pp. 267-83 and Philip Kreager, ‘Aung San Suu Kyi and the peaceful struggle for human rights in Burma’, pp. 284-325.

See also: Aung San Suu Kyi, The Voice of Hope: Conversations with Alan Clements London, Penguin, , 1997, pp. 301 , with contributions by U Kyi Maung and U Tin Oo, London, Penguin, 1997, pp. 301.

Wintle, Justin, Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, London, Hutchinson, 2007, pp. 480

Part Three ‘Sixteen Months’ pp. 225-326 covers March 1988 to July 1989, the evolution of the protests and the regime clamp down; Part Four, pp. 329-429 covers Suu Kyi’s house arrest, the 1990 elections, subsequent attempts to mobilize international pressure, and her defiance when released from arrest in 1998 and 2003.

Callaghan, Mary, Riddle of the Tatmadaw, New Left Review, issue 60 (Nov/Dec), 2009, pp. 27-64

Stresses economic basis of original 2007 protests.

Fink, Christina, Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule, [2001], 2nd edition, London, Zed Books, 2009, pp. 320

Comprehensive survey of regime in its internal and international context, covering protests against General Ne Win in the 1970s, the national nonviolent resistance 1988-90, subsequent opposition to military rule and campaigns by transnational bodies. Updated to include the 2007 protests.

See also: 
Fink, Christina , The Moment of the Monks: Burma, 2007 In Roberts; Garton Ash, Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements)Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 354-370 .

Moser-Puangsuwan, Yeshua, Burma – Dialogue with the Generals: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, In Clark, People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), London, Pluto Press, pp. 39-49

Includes comparison with resistance to Tibet.

Popham, Peter, The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, London, Rider, 2011, pp. 438

Biography by British journalist. Covers the major protests of 2007 as well as 1988.

Websites recommended

ALTSEAN Burma (Alternative ASEAN network on Burma) - ,

which includes special materials on the Saffron Revolution and a monthly Burma bulletin.

Context of the Coup

The immediate background to the 2021 coup by the Burmese military is the period of partial, strictly controlled, liberalization and civilian government introduced by the previous military regime. This period began with the new constitution of 2008 and gained momentum in 2011, symbolized by the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. This phase allowed the party, the National League for Democracy, which she led, to win parliamentary seats in by-elections in 2012 and to form a civilian government after a landslide victory at the polls in 2015.  But this period also included the brutal military assault on the Rohingya Muslims in 2017 (the military had retained control over ‘security’ issues), and Suu Kyi's public (if uneasy) endorsement of this violation of basic human rights.  (See 1.a. and 1.b for more detail on the earlier popular resistance to military rule in 1988 and 2007, and the role of Suu Kyi and of the military up to 2017.) 

Since 2015 the NLD and Suu Kyi herself had been trying to undermine gradually the military grip on the political process (through their reserved seats in parliament and appointment of key ministers) and over the bureaucracy. The avowed NLD strategy was to consolidate civilian control over the government before addressing issues relating to human rights and ethnic minorities. Critics pointed, however, to the lack of democracy within the NLD where loyalty to Suu Kyi has been paramount, and to the civilian government's assault on press freedom and the increasing numbers of political prisoners. Moreover, although before 2015 the NLD had cooperated with some of the numerous ethnic minority groups, during and after the 2015 election the NLD gave priority to its strong base among the ethnic Burmese majority. Moreover, when the generals were indicted for genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi appeared in person at the International Court of Justice in 2019 to defend them.

The next parliamentary election was held in November 2020.  The civilian government ruled, however, that some parts of the country were too conflict-ridden for voting to take place, so preventing many ethnic minorities (less likely to support the NLD) from voting. Some of the electorate had become disillusioned with Suu Kyi and her party, especially as the government had failed (despite the lifting of international economic sanctions) to improve conditions for the poor.  Nevertheless, most Burmese were loyal to Suu Kyi, and the NLD won a resounding victory with 396 seats out of the 476 available.  Although the military-backed Union and Solidarity Development Party did come second, its results were disappointing for the generals, and the party immediately challenged the results. When parliament was due to convene on 1 Feb 2021, the generals seized power in a military coup and detained Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other leading NLD ministers on grounds of electoral fraud.

A key figure behind the coup appeared to be General Min Aung Hlang, who had been personally responsible for the assault on the Rohingya, and was officially due to retire as chief of staff in 2021.  He headed the new military junta. But there were several reasons for the military elite as a group to prevent the NLD becoming the government. Suu Kyi had become less willing to conciliate the generals, and the NLD victory suggested the party might make a more determined effort to decrease the military control over the political process.  Moreover, the generals were concerned that the extensive and profitable network of businesses that they had built up and controlled over the previous years might be threatened by civilian scrutiny. The 2020 election may also have convinced the generals that their political party could not win a majority at the polls unless the electoral system was changed from first past the post to some form of proportional representation.  A week after the coup Min Aung Hlang promised on TV that there would be an election in a year's time, presumably hoping to dampen down protest.

Increasing Resistance to the Coup

Public defiance of the generals began immediately after the coup on Monday 1 February, as round the country people banged pots and pans at 8pm each night.  In the next few days street protests also began.  Students were prominent and initially there was a carnival atmosphere, with some wearing elaborate costumes and the release of red balloons symbolizing the red of the NLD.  Drivers flung denunciatory leaflets about Aung Min Hlang out of car windows, and pictures of Min Aung Hlaing and other generals were stuck on pavements for people to walk over.  A major demonstration in Yangon (the main city in Mandalay) on Sunday 7 February was supported by Buddhist monks and was the largest protest since 2007. By the second week curfews were imposed in Yangon and the purpose built capital Naypayidan, and police began to use rubber bullets and water cannons, but major demonstrations continued, especially by young people who had grown up under semi-civilian rule and were outraged by the military action.  Monday 22 February saw the largest demonstration yet in Yangon to mark the third week after the coup.  As police and military tactics became more ruthless, protesters started wearing hard hats and goggles, and to emulate Hong Kong protesters by carrying umbrellas to deflect pepper spray. Older activists and union leaders played a role in coordinating rallies and marches, but the young using social media were at the forefront.  They took inspiration from the Thai student movement against military and royal rule (adopting their three finger salute) as well as from Hong Kong.

As the military started shooting at demonstrators and the death toll rose in March, numbers on the streets declined and those who still demonstrated open defiance by the end of March often built ad hoc barricades. and began to carry molotov cocktails.  By the beginning of April 570 protesters (and bystanders) were known to have been killed and around 2,730 had been detained. The generals had by now brought in troops hardened in battles with ethnic minorities, and some who had assaulted the Rohingya. By the end of June the number of deaths had risen to 800 and those detained to about 5,000.

Protesting on the streets was, however, only one aspect of the widespread resistance to the coup.  Many Burmese, encouraged by trade unions, began early on to challenge the regime by going on strike and staying at home.  This form of mass resistance rapidly extended to teachers and health workers, fire fighters, bus drivers and rail workers.  Women garment workers were prominent among the strikers. There was also a mass walkout of civil servants from some ministries and almost all bank employees also went on strike.  This widespread withdrawal of support from the administration and the economy continued into April and May.  Staying at home was safer than protesting openly - though some strikers did take to the streets - and was also effective in undermining the administrative capacity of the military regime and weakening the economy, including foreign trade. By the end of June most banks, universities, schools and hospitals had closed and almost the entire administration had come to a standstill.  Some resisters tried to increase the economic dislocation by blocking roads. Civil society groups organized to try to provide practical support strikers and their families.  The regime retaliated by issuing arrest warrants against some of the key professionals going on strike; many doctors for example were trying to treat patients whilst in hiding.

There was also a specifically political response to the military coup, when 289 elected NLD MPs came together on 5 February to form the Committee Representing the Union Parliament. They formally joined with leaders of other parties and resistance organizations to announce a National Unity Government (NUG) on 1st April, and released Myanmar's Federal Democracy Charter, including a new constitution. The National Unity Government reflected a new willingness by Burmese activists to cooperate with the ethnic minorities, who were well represented in the cabinet.  Some minorities had joined in the Civil Disobedience Movement, and several minority regions that had earlier signed peace deals with the military withdrew from them. Suu Kyi, now again a prisoner of the military, was designated State Counsellor (the title she had held since 2015 because she was excluded under the 2008 constitution by her British family ties from officially being  'President'). But the resistance no longer reflected her policies. The involvement of ethnic minorities provided the provisional government with a potential army. Indeed, some activists had already moved into the ethnic border regions to escape repression or to ally themselves as fighters with the minorities. Activists inside Burma were also suggesting the need to move towards a liberation war, and to unite all the nationalities of Myanmar, with the goal of a new federal state.

The military junta defined its own policy towards Suu Kyi as the head of the previous civilian government and as a figurehead of the Burmese resistance in the charges it brought against her in court. Initially she was accused of owning a walkie talkie illegally and of violating Covid-19 restrictions, which each carried a maximum of three years imprisonment.  But when she and senior NLD colleagues were put on trial in June 2014 on these charges, the junta had made further serious accusations to be tried in the future.  Suu Kyi was charged with violating the official secrets act and of corruption (receiving £450,000 pounds in cash and 11 bags of gold), charges with a maximum penalty of 14 and 15 years in prison respectively.     

The success of an unarmed resistance movement often depends on whether some sections of the police and the armed forces, both among the rank and  file and at senior levels, go over to the resistance. In the very early stages of the resistance to the coup there were reports of police (under military control) defecting. The Burmese Armed Forces, the Tatmadaw, are less likely than many armed services to break ranks, and are largely separated from the wider population.  The rank and file live in isolated barracks, are bullied by their officers, and many of them have been engaged in war with ethnic minorities in which atrocities by the military were commonplace.  The generals and senior ranks enjoy (as already noted) immense privileges of both political power and economic wealth.  Nevertheless, a few soldiers publicly defected on social media soon after the coup, despite desertion carrying a death sentence.

The resistance did receive high-level support from Myanmar’s diplomats abroad, many of whom declared loyalty to the Committee Representing the Union Parliament in February. Most notably Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations called for international action to help restore democracy in late February.  He was dismissed from his post by the generals, but the junta was not officially recognized by the UN. The ambassador to the UK, who also claimed to represent the legitimate civilian government, was locked out of the London embassy by military staff there.

International intervention on the side of the resistance can bring significant pressure to bear on a repressive regime, as it did on the post-1990 military rulers. The 2021coup was denounced by G7 countries, and the EU and many western governments, including the US, Canada, and the UK, have adopted targeted sanctions against members of the junta and key companies linked to them, such as the Myanmar Economic Corporation.  They have also imposed a ban on sale of arms or other equipment that could be used for repression. But countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have called for 'constructive engagement'. Australia allied itself with this regional approach. Both China and Russia are ready to block resolutions in the UN Security Council and any general imposition of economic sanctions.  However, the UN Human Rights Council met in February and March to condemn human rights violations, and the UN General Assembly voted in June 2021 to condemn the coup and for an end to arms sales to the generals.

The Chinese government did not in fact immediately fully support the February coup. Its economic relations with Suu Kyi had been good, leading to many infrastructure projects, and Beijing did not offer very explicit support to the junta until June, when General Min Aung Hlang was officially named as head of state and a military representative was invited to a Chinese meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers. The Chinese government may also be concerned about unrest in Myanmar areas bordering on China; refugees had already entered India and Thailand.  A number of ethnic groups had also resumed fighting with the military. Indeed, by mid-2021 commentators began to note the possibility of Myanmar disintegrating.    

The drama of the coup and of the extensive resistance to it led to widespread coverage by major newspapers and broadcasters.  The Guardian for example reported frequently on the developing movement and the responses by the junta in February and March 2021, and it also raised the persecution of the Rohingya in this context: Kenan Malik, ‘Where were the Protesters when the Rohingya were being Murdered?’, 21 February 2021.  But mainstream media articles and reports are not included in the list of references below, which are from less obvious sources.   

The Big Story: Myanmar, New Internationalist, 2021, pp. 15-36

This very informative supplement on the aftermath of the coup on 1 February 2021 carries several articles on the resistance, the repression by the generals, and assessment of future possibilities inside Myanmar.  It also includes discussion of the scope for international action, a summary of key statistics, a list of relevant organizations and initiatives, and a bibliography.

Aguilar, Macarena ; Quadrini, Maggi, "We're Unstoppable": Meet the Women leading Myanmar's Protests, OpenDemocracy, 24/02/2021,

Provides profiles of some of the women who have taken to the streets to protest against the military coup and demand a return to democracy.

Cherney, Michael, Myanmar's Coup: How the Military has Held onto Power for 60 years, The Conversation, 03/02/2021,

Provides background to the 2021 military coup in Myanmar.

Combs, Daniel, Until the World Shatters, New York and London, Melville Press, 2021, pp. 400

Combs, a US researcher, travelled throughout Myanmar after 2011 when people were becoming more willing to talk, and interviewed a wide range of people from a punk rocker to a monk. He also observed the role of Buddhism in society and politics, including the fear and hostility towards Muslim minorities. 

Dr, Sasa ; Aung, U ; Thuzar, Ma, Workers Are Still Launching Nationwide Strikes against Myanmar's Military Rulers, Jacobin, 2021

The interviews with Dr Sasa, minister for international cooperation in the National Unity Government (NUG) representing the resistance, and with two railway workers involved in the Civil Disobedience Movement, are prefaced by a brief summary of the policy of the  NUG.  The article stresses the ethnic diversity of the NUG and its call for the abolition of the 2008 constitution and the 1982 citizenship law used to exclude the Rohingya.

Kijpgen, Nehginpao, The 2020 Myanmar Election and the 2021 Coup: Deepening Democracy or Widening Division?, Asian Affairs, Vol. 51, issue 1, 2021, pp. 1-17

Examines the background to the major protests that erupted after the military coup.

Kyaw, Lynn, Reflections on Military Coups in Myanmar: and why Political Actors in Arakan Chose a Different Path, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Transnational Institute, 2021

The article starts with an analysis of the personal as well as the institutional factors leading to the 2021 coup.  It then assesses the special situation in Rakhine State (previously the kingdom of Arakan), home to Muslim minorities including the Rohingya, and to Arakan Buddhists, who are hostile to both Muslims and to the Burmese (Buddhist) government.

Myint-U, Thant, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy, New York, W. W. Norton , 2019, pp. 320 pb

This well-received book by a Burmese historian (and grandson of UN Secretary General U Thant) explores the complexities of the ethnic and religious composition of Burma/Myanmar, which has never fully cohered as a country since it acquired independence from the British Empire after the Second World War.  The book focuses particularly on the period since the cyclone of 2008, which killed almost 400,000 people and exposed the ineffectiveness of the military regime when constructive action was needed.   

Myint-U, Thant, Myanmar's Coming Revolution: What Will Emerge from Collapse?, Foreign Affairs, 2021

An analysis of likely future developments by the respected Burmese historian and expert on Myanmar's recent past. 

Than, Tharaphi, Resistance to Military Regime in Myanmar Mounts as Nurses, Bankers Join Protests - Despite Bloody Crackdown, The Conversation, 15/03/2021,

A report on the resistance movement six weeks after the coup. This is one of a number of relevant articles carried by The Conversation (an independent international source of news and analysis run by academics) on the coup and resistance to it and on the wider context in Myanmar. 

Indonesia declared independence after Japanese withdrawal in 1945 and in 1949 the Netherlands accepted defeat in their attempt to recolonise the archipelago. At that time, Indonesia took over (Dutch) West Timor, and subsequently expanded by incorporating Aceh (North Sumatra) in 1950 and invading Papua in 1962 and East Timor in 1975. From 1965 onwards, hundreds of thousands of regime opponents have been slaughtered – not only by the military and its special units, but also by vigilantes acting on government instructions. The fall of General Suharto in 1998 offered a window of opportunity for pro-democracy and self-determination movements. The movements for self-determination in Aceh, East Timor, and Papua are all significant examples of rethinking a strategy of armed struggle.

A military coup in 1965 – aimed primarily at destroying the Indonesian Communist Party – effectively ushered in a period of military rule until 1998. General Suharto formally took over as head of state from the independence leader Sukarno in 1967, and the military created a political system dominated by the ruling party, Golkar. In the 1970s demands for a more genuine democracy were spearheaded by university students, who after campaigning against the Communist Party in the mid-1960s enjoyed a somewhat privileged position. Opposition on a broader social front did not develop until the 1980s. Former prominent politicians and generals issued a critical statement in May 1980 and a degree of liberalization in the 1980s prompted wider dissent, especially by intellectuals, but including small scale protests on various economic issues and a growing number of workers strikes from 1988 into the 1990s.

By the 1990s popular dissent spilt over into the ‘official’ opposition parties (especially with widespread support for Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party and a symbol of reform after she had been ousted from her post by the government in 1996). Popular discontent was manifested in the election of 1997. However, the government maintained control until 1998, when widespread popular anger sparked by the Asian economic crisis, and a militant role assumed by students coordinating opposition, prompted splits within the regime and defection of many military leaders from Suharto.

Anderson, Benedict R. O'G., Violence and the State in Suharto's Indonesia, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2001, pp. 247

Essays exploring the institutionalised violence under Suharto and its legacy, with studies of the police and the military. (Also essay on East Timor.)

Aspinall, Edward ; Feith, Herb ; van Klinken, Gerry, The Last Days of Suharto, Melbourne, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, 1999, pp. 171

Boudreau, Vincent, Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 290

Compares democracy movements in Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines from a social movement perspective. Charts post-colonial evolution. On Indonesia, examines the Sukarno years, the 1965 coup and anti-communist massacres, initial student protests in the 1970s under Suharto, and the complexities of party politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Ch. 10 ‘Indonesia’s Democracy Protests’ (pp. 215-37) covers the build-up of resistance to Suharto, the role of the student demonstrations and the end of the Suharto regime.

Forrester, Geoff ; May, R.J., The Fall of Soeharto, London, Hurst, 1998, pp. 261

Produced by Australian National University Research Unit. Examines how and why Suharto was forced to step down.

See also Lee, Military Cohesion and Regime Maintenance : Explaining the Role of the Military in 1989 China and 1998 Indonesia (C. II.1.c. Tiananmen, The Mass Protests of 1989) and Lee, The Armed Forces and Transitions from Authoritarian Rule (E. II.8.a. Resisting Marcos, 1983-86) .

In the 1970s, as oil exploitation in the province grew, so did the grievances of the population who they were not receiving their share of the proceeds and against the behaviour of the Indonesian military guarding the oilfields. In 1976, the Free Aceh Movement was founded and took up arms to fight for independence. The next 20 years are largely a story of human rights abuses and repression, but after the fall of Suharto in 1998 Acehnese students involved in the Indonesia-wide student movement began to organise support throughout the villages of Aceh for a referendum on the province’s status. Despite four massacres of unarmed civilians by the Indonesian military, claiming around 200 lives between May and October 1999, and despite internal displacement of more than 140,000 Acehnese, the students succeeded in organising a succession of nonviolent protests. In June, they boycotted the Indonesian elections, in September they organised a province-wide strike, and in November they mobilized hundreds of thousands in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, to demand a referendum. In December 1999 new Indonesian president Wahid reduced the military presence in the province and early in 2000 a ceasefire was agreed between GAM and Indonesia. This did not hold, but talks continued and at the same time international aid agencies became involved in the situation, and local civil society groups began to take root. In May 2002, three years of negotiations concluded with a new peace agreement, but this also broke down, and in May 2003 Indonesia again imposed martial law.

What fundamentally changed the situation then was the otherwise disastrous 2004 tsunami. Following this, the Indonesian government and GAM signed a peace accord, expanding Aceh autonomy and control over natural resources, and authorising a 300-strong European Union monitoring mission to oversee the agreement until elections in 2006.

Aspinall, Edward, Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 312

Braithwaite, John ; Braithwaite, Valerie ; Cookson, Michael ; Dunn, Leah, Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and reconciliation in Indonesian peacebuilding, Canberra, Australia National University EPress, 2010, pp. 501

Aceh, pp. 343-428, Papua, 49-146.

Drexler, Elizabeth, Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State, Philadelphia PA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, pp. 296

In December 1975 East Timor was on the point of becoming independent from Portugal when it was invaded by Indonesia. Armed resistance failed to protect the population, with around 60,000 East Timorese slaughtered and Indonesia installing a formidable apparatus of repression. FRETILIN reconsidered its strategy and from 1987 onwards prioritised clandestine urban organising and international work over armed struggle. The initiative passed to a younger generation, with the Catholic Church also playing an active role. Despite UN condemnation of the Indonesian occupation, western governments had effectively acquiesced with Indonesia. Independent journalists could only enter East Timor by subterfuge until the papal visit of 1989, which provided the opportunity for the first large peaceful demonstration to be publicized in the west. On 12 November 1991, Indonesian troops attacked the funeral procession for an activist shot by the military, killing at least 250 people. Western reporters were present, including TV journalist Max Stahl who successfully smuggled his footage out of the country. The Dili massacre became the signal for an intensified movement using nonviolent forms of protest inside East Timor, and also for increased international pressure. There was a lively transnational support campaign by activists in Australia, North America and Britain, while the East Timorese – particularly students – began to make links with the growing opposition to Suharto’s rule inside Indonesia.

Guerrilla forces were not disbanded but were held in reserve. However, in 1999 it was significant that they strategically refrained from engagement when Indonesia militia and soldiers began a campaign of punitive violence against East Timorese (in reaction to the Indonesian and Portuguese agreement to hold a referendum on independence). Consequently there was international military intervention under UN auspices, which paved the way to East Timor gaining independence in 2002.

Cristalis, Irena, Bitter Dawn: East Timor – A People’s History, [2002], London, Zed Books, 2009, pp. 384

Dunn, James, East Timor: A Rough Passage to Independence, Double Bay NSW, Longueville, 2004, pp. 430

Fukuda, Chisako M., Peace through Nonviolent Action: The East Timorese Resistance Movement's Strategy for Engagement, Pacifica Review, Vol. 12, issue 1 (February), 2000, pp. 17-31

Hess, David ; Martin, Brian, Repression, backfire and the theory of transformative events, Mobilization, Vol. 11, issue 1 (June), 2006, pp. 249-267

Martin, Brian ; Varney, Wendy ; Vickers, Adrian, Political Jiu-Jitsu against Indonesian Repression: Studying Lower Profile Nonviolent Resistance, Pacifica Review, Vol. 13, issue 2 (June), 2001, pp. 143-156

Compares the successful protests against Suharto in 1998 with the problems of resisting repression inside Indonesia 1965-66 and in East Timor after 1975. Brian Martin’s articles are online at:

Mason, Chrstine, Women, Violence and Nonviolent Resistance in East Timor, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 42, issue 6, 2005, pp. 737-749

Montiel, Cristina Jayme, Political Psychology of Nonviolent Democratic transitions in Southeast Asia, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 62, issue 1 (February), 2006, pp. 173-190

Simpson, Brad, Solidarity in an Age of Globalization: The Transnational Movement for East Timor and US Foreign Policy, Peace and Change, Vol. 29, issue 3 & 4 (July), 2004, pp. 453-482

Stephan, Maria J., Fighting for Statehood: The role of civilian-based resistance in the East Timorese, Palestinian and Kosovo Albanian self-determination movements, Fletcher Forum of World Affairs (Tufts University), Vol. 30, issue 2 (summer), 2006, pp. 57-69

Tanter, Richard ; Selden, Mark ; Shalom, Stephen R., Bitter Flowers, Sweet Flowers: East Timor, Indonesia, and the World Community, Lanham MA, Rowman and Littlefield, 2001, pp. 312

Part I ‘East Timor: Resistance, Repression and the Road to Independence’ focuses particularly on the role of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance, the Catholic Church and the student movement.

See also:

Erica Chenoweth; Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, International Security, 2008, which includes a summary of the East Timorese resistance.

Indonesia invaded West Papua in 1961, obliging the Dutch to accept that the territory be placed under UN transitional administration. However, in 1963, it was handed over to Indonesia subject to a consultation with the population. This ‘Act of Free Choice’ took place in 1969, and consisted of 1,022 Papuan men handpicked by the Indonesian military raising their hands to agree that they would rather be Indonesian citizens than have independence. Indonesian forces have been responsible for the death of more than 100,000 Papuans since the 1961 invasion – their lethal violence ranging from aerial bombardment to extra-judicial execution. The guerrilla resistance remains, but lacks coordination and today guerrilla forces are estimated as around 1,000. At the same time, continued Indonesian settlement in Papua means that the proportion of non-Papuans in the population has risen to 48%.

Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, armed struggle has been rather supplanted by civil mobilization. Dissent took the form of raising the Morning Star flag (the banned symbol symbol of national and cultural identity), large demonstrations, and the formation of human rights and pro-independence organisations. In 2001, Indonesia conceded a nominal ‘special autonomy’ (Otsus), which served to protect Indonesian interests in Papua – including access to forests, minerals and offshore natural resources but did not satisfy Papuan grievances. For a period, Papuans mounted campaigns around more limited objectives than full ‘independence’ – for instance, against logging and palm planting, and also against the Freeport McMoran/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine where, in 2006, indigenous workers organised a trade union (and subsequently strikes in 2007 and 2011).

In 2009-10, a popular campaign began against ‘Special Autonomy’ – a symbolic coffin headed one demonstration, and in June 2010 protesters occupied parliament for two days demanding that their representatives open new negotiations and demand a referendum on independence. In October 2011, the third Papuan People’s Congress – a three-day gathering of extra-parliamentary groups – declared independence. Subsequently this declaration has been read at various demonstrations in Papua, while the Indonesian repression has been especially targeted at the KNPB (the West Papua National Committee, a nonviolent pro-independence group) which has been driven underground. is a campaigning site which lists resources.

Budiardjo, Carmel ; Liong, Liem Soei, West Papua: The obliteration of a people, [1983], Thornton Heath, TAPOL, 1988, pp. 142

TAPOL has campaigned against Indonesian human rights abuses for 40 years, for which in 1995 Budiardjo won the Right Livelihood Award.

Chauvel, Richard, Constructing Papuan Nationalism: History, Ethnicity, and Adaptation, Washington DC, East-West Center, 2005, pp. 140

Farhadian, Charles E., The Testimony Project: Papua – a collection of personal histories in West Papua, Jayapura, Deiyai Press, 2007, pp. 179

Narratives based on interviews with 12 Papuans.

Glazebrook, Diana, Teaching Performance Art is like Sharpening the Blade of a Knife, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 5, issue 1, 2004, pp. 1-14

Describes the cultural project of musician Arnold Ap in the 10 years before he was killed by Indonesian troops, how at first it exploited the limited radio space granted by Indonesia and later became a more open challenge to Indonesian repression.

Hedman, Eva-Lotta E., Dynamics of Conflict and Displacement in Papua, Indonesia, Working Paper No. 42, Oxford, Refugee Studies Paper, 2007, pp. 75

King, Peter, West Papua and Indonesia Since Suharto: Independence, Autonomy or Chaos?, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2004, pp. 240

King, Peter ; Elmslie, Jim ; Webb-Gannon, Camellia, Comprehending West Papua, Sydney, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), 2011, pp. 392

The most substantial publication from CPACS’ ongoing West Papua Project – 25 chapters, including human rights surveys, discussions on strategic possibilities, and other commentaries, plus Katrina Rae’s West Papua 2010: A Literature Survey. All online at

Kirksey, Eben, Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, Durham NC, Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 344

MacLeod, Jason, The Role of Strategy in Advancing Nonviolent Resistance in West Papua, In Reychler, Luc ; Deckard, Julianne Funk; Villanueva, Kevin H.R., Building Sustainable Futures: Enacting Peace and Development Bilbao, University of Deusto, , 2009, pp. 215-237

MacLeod has a chapter on dialogue in King; Elmslie; Webb-Gannon, Comprehending West Papua (E. II.2.d. West Papua: Civil mobilization supersedes guerrilla struggle) , above, and a historical chapter, ‘West Papua: Civil Resistance, Framing, and Identity, 1910s-2010s’, in Bartkowski, Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements) , Chapter 12, pp. 217-237. He also contributes on Papua for

Singh, Bilveer, Papua: Geopolitics and the Quest for Nationhood, Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 2008, pp. 224

Tebay, Neles, West Papua: The Struggle for Peace and Justice, London, Catholic Institute for International Relations, 2005, pp. 32

Tebay has a chapter in King; Elmslie; Webb-Gannon, Comprehending West Papua (E. II.2.d. West Papua: Civil mobilization supersedes guerrilla struggle) .

Jammu and Kashmir have been a source of serious friction between India and Pakistan since independence, because of the predominantly Muslim population, and a cause of war between the two countries in 1947, 1965 and 1971 and have also been the site of long-running armed resistance to Indian rule. In 2008, however, there was a new movement stressing unarmed methods of conflict.

Since the alleged rigging of the 1987 elections, Indian-ruled Jammu and Kashmir has been in a state of simmering conflict, with the Indian security forces enjoying special powers since 1990. The massive protests of August 2008 began in reaction to the transfer of land to the organisers of a Hindu pilgrimage, but quickly widened to embrace the demand for ‘Azadi’ (freedom). On occasions Indian security forces opened fire killing unarmed protesters.

Since 2008 there have been continuing protests. These have not been well publicised either in India or the west, hence the limited literature cited below. The Pakistani press is more inclined to provide coverage – see for example Momin Ifthikar, ‘Kashmir’s New Generation of Resistance’, The Nation, 8 Feb, 2012, which underlines the rejection of armed resistance, but celebrates the role of stone throwing, and makes a comparison with the Arab Spring.

Ali, Tariq ; Bhatt, Hilal ; Chatterji, Angana P. ; Mishra, Pankaj ; Roy, Arundhati, Kashmir: the Case for Freedom, London, Verso, 2011, pp. 192

Includes Roy’s 2008 essay ‘Azadi: the only thing Kashmiris want’, previously published in the Guardian (London), Outlook (New Delhi), and her 2009 book Roy, Arundhati , Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy London, Hamish Hamilton, , 2009, pp. 304 .

Boga, Dilnaz, Curfew in the Vale, New Internationalist, issue October, 2010, pp. 46-47

Indian journalist’s account of the continuing unarmed protests

There was a history of unarmed resistance by the Koreans to Japanese occupation during the first half of the 20th century. After the division of Korea in 1945, the death and destruction of the Korean War 1950-53, and Korea’s continuing role as a front line in the Cold War, with US troops guarding the armistice line, South Korea was subject to the dictatorship of the western-backed Syngman Rhee until 1960. The popular desire for democracy, demonstrated in mass protests in which students were prominent, brought down the dictatorship. However, it was replaced by a new military regime under Park Chung Hee from 1961-1979.

There were renewed student protests in 1979, and a 1980 student revolt in Kwangju was brutally repressed by the army, which killed up to 2,000 people and arrested thousands more. General Chun Doo Hwan won the 1981 elections, and students continued to protest, often resorting to firebombing government buildings and fighting the police. But in 1986 students began to mobilize worker and rural support and a dozen students set fire to themselves (an act of traditional remonstrance to unjust rulers). Widespread opposition persuaded Chun not to stand for a second term in 1987, and led to gradual democratization of the previously authoritarian regime.

Clark, Donald N., The Kwangju Uprising: Shadows over the Regime in South Korea, Boulder CO, Westview Press, 1987, pp. 101

Includes bibliography pp. 95-96.

Cotton, James, Politics and Policy in the New Korean State, New York, St. Martins Press, 1995, pp. 246

Proceedings of conference in Melbourne, 1992.

Jung, Kim Dae, Interview: Democracy and dissidence in South Korea, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 8, issue 2, 1985, pp. 181-192

Kim Dae Jung had been a leading figure in the Democratic Opposition of South Korea since 1971, when he ran for president against the dictator Park Chung Hee, was imprisoned and then exiled. He gave this interview in November 1984, setting out his policies and hopes, when planning to return to join in the struggle against the dictatorship.

Kluver, Alan R., Student movements in Confucian society, In DeGroot, Gerald J., Student Protest: The Sixties and After London, Addison Wesley, , 1998, pp. 219-231

Discusses role of self-immolation by Korean protesters.

Lim, Kim Chong, Political Participation in Korea: Democracy, Mobilization and Stability, Santa Barbara CA and Oxford, Clio Books, 1980, pp. 238

Includes chapters on student activism in 1960 and 1971.

Shinil, Kim, South Korea, In Altbach, Philip G., Student Political Activism: An International Reference Handbook Westport CT, Greenwood Press, , 1989, pp. 173-178

Shorrock, Tim, The struggle for democracy in South Korea in the 1980s and the rise of anti-Americanism, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 8, issue 4 (October), 1986, pp. 1195-1218

Analyses the Park Chung Hee regime, looks back to the Kwangju massacre and role of the US, and comments on the student and worker demonstrations in the spring of 1986 and US/Korean government attempts to channel unrest from the streets into electoral activity. Refers to his earlier article ‘Korea: Stirrings of resistance’, The Progressive, February 1986.

The 400,000 people of the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean had been subject to the autocratic and corrupt rule of President Maumoon Gayoom for 30 years, when, in 2008, he was defeated by opposition party leader, Mohamed Nasheed. This was the first multi-party presidential election. The election of Nasheed, representative of the Maldivian Democratic Party founded some years earlier in exile, was the culmination of a movement of resistance which took off in 2004, when the first demonstrations took place. Internal opposition succeeded by 2007 in prompting defections among some members of the government, and was supported transnationally by calls for a selective boycott of tourist resorts where commercial interests were closest to the regime. Nasheed, who started protesting in the 1980s, spent 5 years as a political prisoner, and his election was hailed as a victory for a peaceful campaign of civil resistance.

However, in office Nasheed met with obstruction from sections of the old regime. He was ousted in a coup by military and police in February 2012, when the Vice-President, rumoured to have the support of the former dictator, officially took over. Nasheed has since been indicted on what his supporters claim are trumped-up charges, and was imprisoned after defying a travel ban. There have been public protests and arrests of activists since the coup. New presidential elections are scheduled for 2013 – the outcome remains uncertain.

Kunzru, Hari, Welcome to Paradise, The Guardian, 16/12/2006,

Shaheed, Ahmed, Future Prospects for Islam and Democracy: a view from the Maldives, Arches Quarterly, Vol. 3, issue 4, 2009, pp. 53-60

Then foreign minister addresses the question ‘how did a 100% Muslim country, acting in tandem with the international community, … peacefully turn centuries of autocratic rule into something resembling a functioning liberal democracy?’

Shaheed, Ahmed ; Upton, Jonathan, Maldives: Reform Deferred? Challenges and Lost Opportunities for Democratic Transition, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, 2008

Pre-2008 elections. Includes sections ‘Repression of Peaceful Opposition and New Media 1999-2002’ and on attempted reforms.

The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Nepal, inspired by events in Eastern Europe, launched a campaign in 1990, ‘the stir’, to end the panchayat (council) system imposed by the monarchy, restore multi-party democracy and limit the king’s powers. (There had been attempts to curb the power of the monarchy and introduce parliamentary democracy – encouraged by India’s achievement of independence – since the late 1940s, but monarchical control through the nominally democratic panchayat form was reasserted in 1962, and political parties banned.) After mass demonstrations and the calling of two general strikes between February and April 1990, the King lifted the ban on political parties in April and approved a new draft constitution in September.

Brown, Louise T., The Challenge to Democracy in Nepal, New York, Routledge, 1996, pp. 239

Covers historical background, earlier attempts at democratization and the evolution of political parties. It draws on extensive interviews. See especially chapter 5 for the resistance movement.

Koirala, Niranjan, Nepal in 1990: End of an Era, Asian Survey, Vol. 31, issue (February), 1991, pp. 134-139

See also Hutt, Michael , Drafting the Nepal Constitution, 1990 Asian Survey, 1991, pp. 1020-1039 .

Parajulee, Ramjee P., The Democratic Transition in Nepal, Lanham MD, Rowman and Littlefield, 2000, pp. 382

Assessment drawing on survey data and giving weight to analysis of impact of external factors on internal forces. See Chapter 2 for the people power movement.

Raeper, William ; Hoftun, Martin, Spring Awakening: An Account of the 1990 Revolution in Nepal, New Delhi, Viking, 1992, pp. 242

Routledge, Paul, A spatiality of resistances: theory and practice in Nepal’s revolution in 1990, In Keith, Michael ; Pile, Steven , Geographies of Resistance London, Routledge, , 1997, pp. 68-86

See also:

Kurt Schock, Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies, (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), describes developments in Nepal 1990 as an example of varied and imaginative unarmed resistance, and assesses how the challenge was sustained and the role of external factors (making comparisons with Thailand in the early 1990s), see pp. 121-25 and 130-41.

Despite the apparent achievements of the 1990 movement, successive elected governments in the 1990s failed to deliver any material difference to the people, and the politicians themselves became increasingly corrupt. In 1996 the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) declared a ‘People’s War’. This did not receive international attention until after November 2001, but was extremely successful, and by 2003 the Maoists controlled the majority of rural Nepal.

In June 2001 King Gyanendra had succeeded to the throne after a palace massacre in which the King, his brother, was murdered. Gyanendra proved ambitious for power and, using the civil war as a pretext, dissolved Parliament in October 2003. Subsequently he dismissed the Prime Minister, taking absolute monarchical power in February 2005.

In April 2006 a mass movement, in which democrats and Maoists (with the guerrillas laying aside their guns) cooperated, launched prolonged strikes and demonstrations which forced the king to reinstate parliament and to agree to elections to a constituent assembly to redraft the constitution. The newly elected parliament entered into negotiations with the Maoists, culminating in an agreed peace deal in November 2006. Despite continuing difficulties over the existence and role of the guerrilla army, in general Nepal appears to be an encouraging example of guerrillas switching to an unarmed struggle to achieve a peaceful outcome.

Daly, Tom, Unarmed resistance in Nepal, Peace News, issue 2478, 2006, pp. 5-5

Fair, Christine ; Levitas, Kerem ; Rauch, Collette, Nepal: Rule of Law and Human Rights Challenges, Briefing, Washington DC, US Institute of Peace, 2005

Brief analysis of gaps in 1990 Constitution and of the King’s February 2005 coup removing the Prime Minister

Navin, Mishra, Nepal: Democracy in Transition, Delhi, Authorspress, 2006, pp. 295

Discusses historical background since 1951, the evolution of parliamentary democracy from 1991-2001 and examines in detail the royal takeover and war with the Maoists.

Ogura, Kiyoko, Seeking State Power – The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Transitions Series No. 3, Berlin, Berghof Foundation, 2008, pp. 55

Chapter 4, ‘Transition to Peace and Nonviolent Politics in a Democratic State’, pp. 31-44.

Pratek, Pradhan, Nepal’s unfinished democratic revolution, South Asian Journal, issue 13 (July-September), 2006, pp. 14-23

Turber, Ches ; Bogati, Subinda, Civil Resistance and Peacebuilding: Nepal Case Study, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2021

The authors examine in particular on why the Maoists took up arms and then adopted civil resistance from 1996 to 2006, and on the continuing sources of more minor armed conflict since the settlement of 2006 due to 'flaws in the conflict settlement process'.

Vanaik, Achin, The New Himalayan Republic, New Left Review, issue 49 (Jan/Feb), 2008, pp. 47-72

Analyses the ‘Second Democratic Revolution’ of April 2006, which led to the end of the Nepali Monarchy in December 2007, and the historical background to the revolution, with a particular focus on the role of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

Vishwakarma, R.K., People’s Power in Nepal, New Delhi, Manak Publications, 2006, pp. 298

Prominent Maoist contributors.

Pakistan was created out of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, which led to mass migration and terrible massacres of both Muslims and Hindus. Pakistan suffered a further partition when East Pakistan broke away in 1971 and claimed independence. The secession met with harsh repression by the Pakistan army, thousands of refugees fled to India, and the Indian army invaded Pakistan, ensuring recognition of an independent Bangladesh. Pakistani politics have also been marked by long period of military rule.

There have nevertheless been campaigns of predominantly nonviolent resistance to the military, using strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and hunger strikes,, although protests often turned into riots, and there was also fighting between factions, often in the universities. (Factional strife became more bloody in the 1980s when guns were widely available, as Pakistan became enmeshed in guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan.)

The first campaign of popular resistance took place in 1968-69, when workers and students, supported by peasants, women and school children, brought to an end the government of General Ayub Khan in March 1969. Although he handed over rule to the commander-in-chief General Yahya Khan, who immediately imposed martial law, this was a significant example of people power. The resistance, in which Zulfikar Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, played a prominent role, involved remarkable solidarity between West and East Pakistan, and continued after the imposition of martial law.

Bhutto headed a civilian government from the end of 1971 to 1977, when he was ousted by General Zia and executed, after a sham trial, in 1979. The second campaign of national resistance to military rule began in April 1981, the anniversary of Bhutto’s execution, with a pilgrimage to his grave. In 1981 the opposition parties came together to form the Movement to Restore Democracy – the Bhutto family, held under arrest, were a focal point for much of the opposition. Students took the initiative in demonstrating, supported openly by academics, doctors and lawyers, and less openly by many others. When the regime arrested leaders of the Movement to Restore Democracy, the Movement called for mass strikes and political non-cooperation across Pakistan.

In 1983 the Movement again launched mass protests, courting arrest. Popular protests in Sindh spread to other provinces, with the Bar Association demanding immediate elections. This campaign was not quelled until October 1983, after hundreds had been killed by the army, crops burned and villages destroyed. However, the Movement called on supporters to boycott Zia’s referendum to impose Islamic law and subsequent sham elections to the National Assembly.

Martial law was formally lifted at the end of 1985, and political campaigning by political parties, especially the PPP, increased, but genuine elections were not granted until after the death of Zia in an air crash in August 1988. Although Benazir Bhutto (daughter of Zulfikar) was elected as prime minister in December 1988, and held office from 1988-90 and 1993-96, the military has continued to intervene in Pakistani politics. General Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 and did not stand down as President until 2008. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, when she returned from exile to contest elections. The impact of the crises in Afghanistan has also made Pakistani politics and society more violent and open to extremism.

In such adverse conditions there has been little space for further civil resistance. Yet the ‘Lawyers Movement’, launched in March 2007 to contest the unconstitutional ousting of the Chief Justice, gained his reinstatement after a campaign of protest lawyers and lawyers across Pakistan boycotting courts. The lawyers have continued to campaign for respect for the rule of law, the constitution, and civil rights. For example in January 2009 the Lahore High Court Bar Association launched a campaign for 20 million signatures and in March called for a ‘Long March’ in which many political groups participated. This movement has been covered in the daily press and other media, but is not yet very well documented – two references are included here with the literature on earlier protests.

The earlier campaigns against military rule in 1968-69 and the 1980s have also received little attention in the west; books on Pakistan tend to focus entirely on government actions and political leaders, but a few relevant sources are listed below.

Abbas, Azmat ; Jasam, Saima, A Ray of Hope: The Case of the Lawyers’ Movement in Pakistan, In Heinrich Böll Foundation, Pakistan: Reality, Denial and the Complexity of its State Berlin, Heinrich Böll Foundation, , 2009, pp. 140-170

Ali, Tariq, Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power, London, Jonathan Cape, 1970, pp. 272

The first four chapters cover the period 1947-1968. Chapters 5-7 (pp. 156-216) discuss the mass revolt from November 1968 to March 1969, which the author compares to the May 1968 Events in France.

Bhutto, Benazir, Daughter of the East: An Autobiography, London, Mandarin, 1989, pp. 402

A memoir by Bhutto’s daughter, who was a central figure in the campaign for democracy in the 1980s, which takes her story almost up to the November 1988 elections and her becoming Prime Minister. Although the focus is personal, includes material on the wider political context and the growing popular resistance.

Bin Sayeed, Khalid, Pakistan in 1983: Internal stress more serious than external problems, Asian Survey, Vol. 24, issue 2, 1984, pp. 219-228

Butt, Iqbal Haider, Revisiting Student Politics in Pakistan, Bargad, Gujranwala, 2009, pp. 178

Analyses ‘patterns of key student movements in Pakistan’, using historical information and interviews with 24 student leaders, plus a chronology.

Duncan, Emma, Breaking the Curfew: A Political Journey through Pakistan, London, Arrow Books, 1990, pp. 312

A journalist (now deputy editor of the Economist) provides her perspective on Pakistan in the 1980s.

Feldman, Herbert, From Crisis to Crisis: Pakistan 1962-1969, London, Oxford University Press, 1972, pp. 344

The main emphasis of this book is on Ayub Khan’s government, but chapter 9 ‘The last phase’ (pp. 237-71) covers the ‘132 days of uninterrupted disturbances’. Stresses the rioting and factionalised violence, but notes the importance of the urban working classes and the students.

Review, Harvard Law, The Pakistani Lawyers’ Movement and the popular currency of judicial power, Notes, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 123, issue 7 (May), 2010, pp. 1705-1726

Wolpert, Stanley, Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 378

The emphasis is on Bhutto’s political role and leadership and there is only very brief mention of popular agitation in chapter 7 ‘Winters of his discontent’ (1965-69), pp. 100-34.

The resistance in the Philippines in 1986 popularised the term ‘people power’. The Marcos regime ruled by martial law from 1972 to 1981, and subsequently remained highly authoritarian and also corrupt. It faced significant popular challenge in the 1980s. (There were also longer term campaigns of guerrilla resistance by an Islamic and a communist movement.) In the mid-1980s leftist political forces, including the Communist Party, loosely allied themselves in unarmed protest with other social and political groups, so that by 1986 a broad sector of the population was involved, from poor farmers, workers and shanty town dwellers to students, professionals and businessmen. Women were especially active in opposing Marcos.

The assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino in 1983 evoked outrage, and the fraudulent parliamentary elections of 1984 prompted mass demonstrations of protest. When presidential elections were called in February 1986, Cory Aquino (Benigno’s widow) stood against Marcos. The regime’s rigging of the election to deny her victory led to a nonviolent uprising – Aquino called for mass civil disobedience and a general strike, and Marcos was persuaded to step down after a mass popular demonstration which defied the regime’s tanks. The role of the armed forces – the Defence Minister Juan Enrile led a military breakaway and then appealed to the army and people to support Aquino – has been much debated. The Catholic Church played a central role in the evolving protests, and in backing Aquino for the presidency. When Marcos called on units of the army to attack Enrile’s headquarters, Cardinal Sin broadcast an appeal for popular intervention, and nuns and priests were at the forefront of the thousands who prevented the troops advancing.

The people power movement has been well covered by the literature on civil resistance – partly because it provided an impressive example of unarmed mobilization, which influenced many later people power protests, and also because the Aquino family and the Catholic resisters consciously adhered to nonviolent principles and took part in training sessions on nonviolent action organised, including some organised by an affiliate of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. The events of 1986 have also been described and analysed in the broader literature on politics and rebellion.

Arillo, Cecilio T., Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Four Day Revolution in the Philippines, February 22-25 1986, Manila, CTA and Associates, 1986, pp. 288

Account focusing primarily on role of military and using extensive military sources, but also discusses the role of people power.

Bello, Walden, Aquino’s elite populism: Initial reflections, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 8, issue 3 (July), 1986, pp. 1020-1030

Observes that Cory Aquino’s movement seen as a third force by the US, though author rebuts US claims to have supported her before the fall of Marcos. Describes movement as ‘a genuine populist phenomenon’ with base in urban middle class, bringing onto the streets the lower middle class, unemployed workers and shanty town residents. Aquino avoided ties to the left, and did not need them to win the election, though – Bello claims – the left had paved the way for her ultimate success.

Bello, Walden, From the ashes: The rebirth of the Philippine revolution – a review essay, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 8, issue 1 (January), 1986, pp. 258-276

Leftist academic discusses sympathetically the role of the left and armed revolution in the countryside, but also explores the ‘legal, semi-legal and clandestine mass struggles in the cities’. Notes the creation by 1975 of a militant workers’ movement and the 1975 year-long wave of over 400 strikes, as well as networks among Catholics, professionals and students.

Cortright, David ; Watts, Max, Left Face: Soldier Unions and Resistance Movements in Modern Armies, Westport CT, Greenwood Press, 1991, pp. 296

The chapter ‘The Philippines: another Portugal?’, pp. 220-28, challenges the view that the Reformed Armed Forces Movement was ever a revolutionary movement, concluding ‘The primary thrust for the overthrow of Marcos and the installation of Cory Aquino came from the people themselves, notably the church and the middle classes’.

Ellwood, Douglas J., Philippines Revolution 1986: Model of Nonviolent Change, Quezon City, Philippines, New Day Publishers, 1986, pp. 60

Includes material on role of local peace movement, nonviolence training and a 1983 statement on ‘creative nonviolence’.

Fenton, James, The snap revolution, Granta, issue 18, 1986, pp. 33-155

Johnson, Bryant, The Four Days of Courage: The Untold Story of the People Who Brought Marcos Down, New York, Free Press, 1987, pp. 290

Emphasis on role of military and Catholic Church.

Komisar, Lucy, Corazon Aquino: The Story of a Revolution, New York, George Brazillier, 1987, pp. 290

Discusses role of Benigno Aquino and Corazon Aquino’s involvement in politics; pp. 105-23 focus on mutiny and popular protests.

Lee, Terence, The Armed Forces and Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 42, issue 5 (May), 2009, pp. 640-669

Mendoza Jr., Amado Jr., ”People Power” in the Philippines, 1983-86, In Roberts; Garton Ash, Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 179-190

Discusses if the role of civil resistance from 1983 onwards ‘derived from a principled rejection of violence, or from particular strategic, moral, and cultural considerations’. Suggests all relevant to the moderate coalition against Marcos. Also discusses crucial role of US government – though divided – and notes the continuing problems facing Philippine democracy.

Mercado, Monina Allarey, People Power: An Eyewitness History: The Philippine Revolution of 1986, Preface and scenarios by Francisco S. Tatad, Manila and New York, J.B. Reuter and Writers and Readers Publishing, 1987, pp. 320

Pascual, Dette, Organizing “People Power” in the Philippines, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 1, issue 1 (winter), 1990, pp. 102-109

Brief but illuminating account, by the founder and chair of the National Women’s Movement for the Nurturance of Democracy in the Philippines, of the role played by her organization and two related civil society groups between 1983 and 1986.

Schwenk, Richard L., Onward Christians! Protestants in the Philippines Revolution, Quezon City, Philippines, New Day Publishers, 1986, pp. 102

Examines role of various Protestant groups and stresses Christian basis of nonviolence.

Thompson, Mark R., The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines, New Haven CT, Yale University Press, 1995, pp. 225

The success of 1986 prompted a renewed, though much more contestable, expression of people power in January 2001. When President Estrada was impeached by the House of Representatives for major corruption and the Senate hearing narrowly failed to pursue the charges rigorously, tens of thousands took to the streets. drawing on the forces that overthrew Marcos. The demonstrations took place at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) – the site of the major 1986 protests: hence the naming of 2001 ‘EDSA II’.

Estrada offered a new election (an offer turned down by his opponents), but then, in the absence of military support, rapidly resigned and was replaced by Gloria Arroyo. Estrada, a former film star, had however been elected on a programme of poverty reduction in a populist election, and retained substantial support. When Estrada was arrested, in April 2001 thousands demonstrated over several days, culminating in an estimated 300,000, demanding Estrada’s release and the resignation of Aroyo. This counter-demonstration of ‘people power’, which did not succeed, drew mainly on the urban poor.

Labrador, M.C., The Philippines in 2001: High drama, a new president and setting the stage for recovery, Asian Survey, Vol. 42, issue 1 (January/February), 2002, pp. 141-149

Lande, Carl H., The return of “people power” to the Philippines, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 12, issue April, 2001, pp. 88-102

Discusses the constitutional problems of Philippine democracy and the role of an elite above the law.

Liwag-Kotte, Emmalya, People Power in the Philippines: Civil Society between Protest and Participation, D + C: Development and Cooperation, issue 6 (Nov/Dec), 2001, pp. 21-22

Macpagal, Maria Elizabeth ; Galace, Jasmin Nario, Social psychology of People Power II in the Philippines, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, Vol. 9, issue 3, 2003, pp. 219-233

Includes assessment of nonviolence.

Reid, Ben, The Philippine democratic uprising and the contradictions of neoliberalism: EDSA II, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 22, issue 5, 2001, pp. 777-793

Analysis of Estrada regime and the protests that led to his overthrow and replacement by Aroyo. The article is also a critique of western commentators who deplore the popular uprising, and an attack on a neoliberal conception of democracy. The author concludes that the 2001 rebellion was ultimately an elite controlled process, transferring power to a different faction of the elite, but also a model of popular mobilization and empowerment.

Tilly, Charles, Social Movements, 1768-2004, Boulder CO, Paradigm Publishers, 2004, pp. 204

Chapter 5, pp. 95-122, ‘Social Movements enter the Twenty-First Century’, takes as its starting point the January 2001 text message in Manila, ‘Go EDSA, Wear black’ and goes on to discuss the relationship between social movements and communications technology with further details on unrest in Manila.

As Chiang Kai-shek was driven out of mainland China by the Communists in the late 1940s, he consolidated Kuomintang (KMT) rule over Taiwan (Formosa), whilst looking to the future reunification of China on KMT terms. From the end of 1949 until the mid-1980s Taiwan was effectively ruled by a one-party dictatorship with the help of martial law. It was also the rule of mainland Chinese over native Taiwanese. In 1987, after a year’s discussion, martial law was lifted and the regime under Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, began to take steps towards liberalization: e.g. easing restrictions on the press, freeing many imprisoned dissidents and allowing opposition parties. The ossified structure of the Leninist-style KMT and the legislature also underwent reform. Democratization could be seen in part as an adjustment to an increasingly prosperous capitalist economy, a response to US pressure and as enlightened reform from above. But it also reflected strong pressure from below, and the regime discussed reforms with leaders of the opposition.

In the early 1970s the changing international context and US recognition of Communist China sparked a major debate among intellectuals and students. After Chiang Kai-shek’s death in 1975 there was renewed intellectual ferment, and dissent intensified after the KMT tried in 1977 to rig the election of a local magistrate against an independent candidate, prompting 10,000 people to attack the local police station. National opposition, centred on new dissident periodicals, included moderate and Marxist groups, but was spearheaded by the radical ‘Formosa’ group. This wave ended in 1979, when a mass rally in Kaohsiung on December 10, Human Rights Day, was bloodily suppressed, and leaders of ‘Formosa’ jailed.

During the 1980s, however, a moderate opposition regrouped and used the loophole of independent individual candidacies for elections to gain electoral support, won seats for the wives of jailed dissidents and other independents, and laid the basis for an opposition party. Growing liberalization after 1986 encouraged marches, demonstrations, strikes and boycotts on a range of political, economic and environmental issues, and between July1987 and July 1988 there were over 1,400 reported protests, many by students, workers and farmers.

Kaplan, John, The Court Martial of the Kaohsiung Defendants, Berkeley CA, Berkeley University Press, 1981, pp. 79

Long, Simon, Taiwan: China’s Last Frontier, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1991, pp. 264

After sketching in Taiwan’s earlier history and the evolution of the KMT, chapter 3 describes Taiwan’s political development up to 1986, including a brief summary of the birth of opposition (pp. 66-72). Chapter 8 looks at political reform in 1986-89, the founding of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the rise in protest.

Rigger, Shelley, Taiwan’s best-case democratization, Orbis, Vol. 48, issue 2 (spring), 2004, pp. 285-292

Discusses factors promoting relatively smooth and successful transition, including democratic elements, such as local elections, even under KMT rule, and international pressure to democratize after the US and international recognition of the People’s Republic of China. Examines how ‘evolutionary, peaceful, and protracted’ transition also resulted in compromises that created problems for future. Latter part of article examines obstacles to a fully satisfactory democratic system.

Roy, Denny, Taiwan: A Political History, Ithaca NT, Cornell University Press, 2003, pp. 255

Chapter 6 examines the opposition’s struggle and breakthrough.

Tun-jen, Cheng ; Haggard, Stephen, Taiwan in transition, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 1, issue 2 (spring), 1990, pp. 62-74

Discusses models of democratization, opting for an emphasis on processes rather than preconditions. Examines rather dismissively role of protest in 1970s, but notes evolution in the 1980s, and concludes that although 1986 did not mark a Philippine-style people power transition, it was a ‘tacit negotiation’ between the regime and the opposition. Cheng Tun-jen provides a similar analysis in Cheng Tun-jen, Democratizing the quasi-Leninist regime in Taiwan World Politics, 1989, pp. 471-489 .

Yangsun, Chou ; Nathan, Andrew J., Democratizing transition in Taiwan, Asian Survey, Vol. 27, issue 3 (March), 1987, pp. 277-299

Thailand has suffered frequent intervention by the military in politics since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. This history has been marked by a series of coups. Popular opposition began to contest this pattern: mass protests led by students in 1973 led to the fall of the existing military dictatorship. But military influence in politics was not at an end.

After a military-dominated government seized power in February 1991, a renewed popular campaign for democracy began in early 1992, which crystallised round the demand that General Suchinda, the Prime Minister, should resign. Nonviolent resistance began in April with a hunger strike by a prominent politician and continued with weeks of demonstrations and public assemblies demanding democracy. When moves to resolve the crisis within parliament failed, hundreds of thousands gathered to protest on May 15. The government violently suppressed the demonstration, killing a minimum of 52 protesters, but General Suchinda was forced to resign and new elections were held in September 1992, leading to a coalition government headed by a civilian.

Boonyarattanasoontorn, Jaturang ; Chutima, Gawin, Thai NGOs: The Continuing Struggle for Democracy, Bangkok, Thai NGO Support Project, 1995, pp. 188

Callahan, William A., Imagining Democracy: Reading ‘The Events of May’ in Thailand, Singapore and London, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1998, pp. 199

Hewison, Kevin, Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation, London, Routledge, 1997, pp. 301

An overview of society and politics in Thailand. The Introduction briefly discusses the background to May 1992. Andrew Brown, ‘Locating Working Class Power’ (pp. 163-78), challenges the mainstream interpretation of May 1992 as an expression of the increased power of the middle class and civil society groups, which demonstrated the absence of working class power, suggesting commentators have an over-simplified model of united working class action.

Paisal, Sridharadhanya, Catalyst for Change: Uprising in May, Bangkok, Post Publishing, 1992, pp. 116

Paribhatra, Sukhumbhand, State and society in Thailand: How fragile the democracy?, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, issue (September), 1993, pp. 879-893

Samudavanija, Chai-Anan, Thailand, In Altbach, Philip G., Student Political Activism: An International Reference Handbook Westport CT, Greenwood Press, , 1989, pp. 185-196

Covers student activism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sivaraksa, Sulak, Loyalty Demands Dissent: Autobiography of a Socially Engaged Buddhist, Berkeley CA, Parallax Press, 1998, pp. 248

Sivaraska (an ‘engaged’ Buddhist) is a prominent social critic, who dared to compare the military to ‘termites’. Edits the journal Seeds of Peace, which comments on problems in the region.

After 1992 many hoped that the era of military coups had come to an end. But the military did intervene again in September 2006 to overthrow the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup had the backing of the king, who is popular and exerts extraordinary moral authority in Thailand, and was tacitly supported by residents of Bangkok, though there was some student protest.

The lack of urban resistance to the military takeover was due to the growing opposition to Thaksin, a former telecom tycoon who, as prime minister after 2000, won loyalty among the poor in the countryside through his health reforms, but was increasingly distrusted by the urban middle class for his authoritarian style, corruption, cronyism and human rights violations (for example use of martial law to crush Muslim resistance in the south, and later declaration of a state of emergency). When he called an unexpected election in April 2006 to bolster his authority, the opposition parties boycotted it and it was annulled. The army stepped in to prevent Thaksin being returned to power again by the rural vote in a re-run election.

The anti-Thaksin movement was launched in September 2005, and in the Spring of 2006 hundreds of thousands protested in Bangkok. However, Thaksin retained the support of many of the rural population and urban poor, who form the majority, and there were a succession of opposed mass protests by pro-Thaksin forces (for example ‘the Caravan of the Poor and Democracy Loving Village People’) and also by his opponents. From exile, Thaksin continued to be active in politics and mobilize his supporters. After a pro-Thaksin government was elected in December 2007, the opposition coalition besieged parliament and then Bangkok airport in late 2008 to demand the resignation of the prime minister, which they achieved through the intervention of the Constitutional Court. Pro-Thaksin demonstrators responded in both 2009 and in 2010, when serious violence was narrowly averted and the demonstrators were persuaded to disperse.

Kasian, Tejapira, Toppling Thaksin, New Left Review, issue 39 (May/June), 2006, pp. 5-37

Analyses social and political context and mounting opposition up to April 2006.

Pongsudhirak, Thitinan, Thailand since the Coup, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 19, issue 4 (October), 2008, pp. 140-153

See also:

April Carter, People Power and Political Change: Key Issues and Concepts, (A. 1.a.ii. Theories of Civil Disobedience, Power and Revolution), pp. 110-12, for very brief summary up to 2010, including newspaper references.

The continuing conflict between the poor rural population, loyal to the former Prime Minister Thaksin, and the metropolitan classes (described under 10.b.)  led to yet another military coup in May 2014.  The coup ousted another Thaksin government, this time led by his sister Yingluck. The military claimed the reason for imposing martial law was the seven month long movement by anti-Thaksin forces, who occupied key sites in Bangkok and demanded a new constitution to prevent pro-Thaksin parties winning every election, as they had since 2001. This time the military consolidated their power, declaring Thailand's disorder was due to too much democracy, and created the National Council for Peace and Order, selecting General Prayuth Chan-Ocha as prime minister. The junta then postponed holding a new election until March 2019.

The military had civilian support in reverting to authoritarianism, for example among some political and professional elites. But the monarchy also has a key role in legitimizing the military - the links have been close since monarchical rule ended in 1932. The monarchy has, however, officially had a constitutional role within the parliamentary system. King Bhumibhol Adulaya-dej, who reigned for 70 years until his death in 2016, despite being allied with conservative and military forces was popular and  generally respected.  His son, King Maha Vajiralongkom, by contrast, is notorious for his extravagant and scandalous life-style, and he has continued to live abroad in Germany even after acceding to the throne. Nevertheless, he has also chosen since 2016 to increase his royal power, taking control of crown property and direct command of some regiments, and intervening in politics. He has also packed the privy council with his military allies.

When an election was eventually held in May 2019, the introduction of a new constitution ensured continuing military control and provisions to prevent success by pro-Thaksin forces. An Upper House of 250 members was to be directly appointed by the military, and 150 seats out of 500 seats in the Lower House were to be contested on a proportional representation basis favouring election of smaller parties. The prime minister was to be selected at a joint session of the Upper and Lower Houses. The military also controlled which parties were allowed to register for the election.  Doubts about the election resulting in any real change were well-founded. Although pro-Thaksin candidates did well in the elections, the pro-military political party established a narrow majority in the Lower House, and the new parliament selected General Chan-Ocha as prime minister.

Students Lead 2020 Rebellion against the Military and the King

University and school students have played a key role in the determined and daring movement of protest that hit the headlines from the end of July to December 2020, but it originated from political events at the beginning of the year. In February the government banned the political party Future Forward, which had won 81 seats in 2019 election and which called for reforms to the army, more decentralized and democratic government and curbs on big business. There was a strong response by students, who took to the streets against the ban, and who later took up the party's policy demands.  However, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic prevented public demonstrations until the summer. The movement then erupted in Bangkok, spread to cities throughout the country and brought tens of thousands onto the streets, and maintained momentum until December. Although students were at the forefront, they had support from much of the population.

The student movement was coordinated through social media, especially Tinder and Tik Tok, drew on international internet culture - for example their distinctive three finger symbol of defiance was taken from the Hunger Games. It also playfully mocked the authorities, representing them for example with inflatable dinosaurs. But the movement also expressed clear and increasingly radical political criticisms of the military and the king, and issued demands for a new democratic constitution, a strictly constitutional monarchy and freedom for all political parties, as well as reforms to make education less authoritarian and hierarchical. The major demonstration on September 19 was timed to mark the anniversary of the military coup against Thaksin in 2006. A demonstration in December 2020 confronted the army barracks of a regiment under the direct control of the new king. Students risked mocking and confronting royal power despite the lese majeste laws dating from 1932, which made insulting the king and members of the royal family punishable by prison sentences of 3 to 15 years.

The military junta was uncertain how to deal with the demonstrations - arresting key individuals but allowing mass protests, and both imposing and then lifting emergency measures against demonstrations in October.  However, towards the end of the year the government used more violence and more extreme measures against protesters, such as water cannons containing chemical irritants and pepper spray. Students responded by wearing hard hats, deploying inflatable ducks as a protection against water cannons, and looking to Hong Kong activists for inspiration, for example using umbrellas. A second wave of Covid-19 and consequent lockdown measures then effectively suspended public protest, and the regime used the opportunity to imprison leading activists and charge them with royal defamation and sedition.

When some protests did resume in March 2021, police used water cannons and batons, injuring some of the demonstrators. Some protesters interviewed expressed doubts about the clarity of political focus of the movement at that stage, and concern about opposition to the protesters and their demands within Thai society, especially among the older generation. Although youth opposition to the regime certainly remained, the momentum of the movement had been lost.                                                                                            

The references below cover the 2020 protests, but also provide background analysis of the 2014 military coup and of the nature of military and royal power currently being exercised. 

Baker, Chris, The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 46, issue 3, 2016, pp. 388-404

Baker argues that the purpose of the 2014 military coup was not only to end the influence of the radical Thaksin forces, but also to entrench authoritarianism.  He stresses the role of 'the professional and official elite' in promoting the coup and examines authoritarian tendencies in Thai politics and in Bangkok's middle class.

Boyle, Peter, Students Lead New Wave of Democracy Protest in Thailand, Green Left Weekly, 2020

Reports on the wave of student protests across the country since the July 18 rally in front of the Democracy Monument. Focuses particularly on a protest on 19 August by thousands at Thammasat University in Bangkok (which has iconic significance in the history of Thai pro-democracy struggles), the largest of many student-led protests that day.

Chambers, Paul, Book Review: Divided over Thaksin: Thailand's Coup and Problematic Transition, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 2010

This review provides a useful overview of the deep divisions in Thai politics between the supporters of the radical populist Thaksin and the strongly opposed conservative royalist groups, leading to the 2006 coup and conflict between the 'Red Shirts' and 'Yellow Shirts'. 

See also: Funston, John, ed. ,  Divided Over Thaksin: Thailand's Coup and Problematic Transition, Singapore, Silkworm Books, 2009, pp. 203.

The book grew out of seminars on Thai politics at the Australian National University in 2006 and 2007; it has six chapters on the 2006 coup and constitutional issues arising, four on the sources of the growing radicalism in the rural and Muslim south of the country, and three on economic issues.

Eckersley, Jo, King and Country, New Internationalist, 2015, pp. 38-40

The article draws on interviews with Thai citizens to discuss why, a year after the May 2014 military coup, there were no protests in a country known for its activism on the streets. It outlines the extent of strict censorship and the draconian sentences, which could be imposed for insulting the king, and stresses the links between the 87 years old monarch and the military, dating back to a coup in 1957.  Eckersley also looks back to the 2006 military coup against the Thaksin government and the violent suppression of Thaksin supporters in 2010, but suggests the death of the reigning monarch could precipitate change and expose the state as a 'naked military dictatorship'.

Elinoff, Eli, Subjects of Politics: Between Democracy and Dictatorship in Thailand, Anthropological Theory, Vol. 19, issue 1, 2019, pp. 143-149

An anthropological approach to explaining why the Thai military has tried to 'silence' politics, focusing on the emergence of the poor as political actors and the fears generated by this development. The article is based on research into squatter settlements on railway tracks in the provincial capital Khon Kaen demanding land rights (with support from NGO activists), between 2007 and 2017. 

Gaber, Katrina, Contesting the Thai Hyper-Royalist Nationalist Imaginary through Infrapolitical Everyday Resistance Online, The International Journal of Conflict and Reconciliation, 0

This article focuses on the internet, not as a tool for mobilizing open protest, but enabling 'covert, individual, non-ohrganized' resistance in a repressive context.

Haberkorn, Tyrell, In Bangkok: Remembering the Tak Bai Massacre, OpenDemocracy, 03//11/2009,

Haberkorn recalls a massacre of peaceful protesters in the Muslim-majority south in October 2004 after a declaration of martial law. He argues the failure of the state and courts to hold any official accountable for 78 deaths demonstrates the country's 'deepening crisis' in which the International Crisis Group reported (22 June 2009) over, 3,400 people had died.  

Haberkorn, Tyrell, The Anniversary of a Massacre and the Death of a Monarch, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 76, issue 2, 2017, pp. 269-281

Haberkorn begins by describing a photographic exhibition at Thammasat university of the massacre of students there in October 1976 in connection with a military coup. The exhibition in October 2016, which commemorated the fortieth anniversary of that tragedy, had particular resonance in the context of the 2014 military coup and the death of the king after 70 years on the throne in 2016.

Hewison, Kevin, A Book, the King and the 2006 Coup, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 38, issue 1, 2008, pp. 190-211

Hewison assesses a biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which the palace tried to suppress, and which examines the king's role in Thai politics and in the moves to suppress Thaksin.

See also: Handley, Paul, The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibal Adulyade, New Haven Conn, Yale University Press, 2006.

Lertchoosakul, Kanokrat, The White Ribbon Movement: High School Students in the 2020 Thai Youth Protests, Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 53, issue 2, 2021, pp. 206-218

The article draws on interviews with 150 university and 150school students, focus groups and observation of 16 protests to ascertain why high school students joined the demonstrations.  The author concludes that they were rebelling both against conservative, authoritarian and repressive educational systems, and against political institutions - especially the monarchy.

Ockey, James, Thailand in 2020: Politics, Protests and a Pandemic, Asian Survey, Vol. 61, issue 1, 2021, pp. 115-122

Ockey notes that the Covid pandemic interrupted student-led protests for constitutional reform.  When they resumed students demanded not only constitutional amendments already being considered by parliament, but the resignation of the prime minister, dissolution of parliament and reform of the monarchy.  He notes fears of violence between students and royalists or security forces. 

Phasuk, Sunai, Thailand's ‘Bad Students’ are Rising Up for Democracy and Change, Human Rights Watch, 17/09/2020,

Report on student-led pro-democracy protests in Bangkok and at least 20 other provinces, calling for new elections, a new Constitution and reduction in the dominant role of the Thai monarchy.

See also: '#WhatsHappeningInThailand: 10 things you need to know', Amnesty International, 6 November 2020.

See also: Selway, Joel, 'Thailand's National Moment: Protests in a Continuing Battle Over Nationalism, Brookings, 2 November, 2020.

Phoborisut, Penchan, Thai Youth's Struggle for Democracy may Fizzle but Political Contention Continues, East Asian Forum Quarterly, Vol. 13, issue 2, 2021, pp. 21-24

Almost a year after protests began, the author reports on the detention of political activists, but also the evolution of decentralized networked forms of communication to promote mobilization against the Thai establishment.

Searight, Amy, Thailand's First Elections Since Its 2014 Coup, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 22/03/2019,

An analysis by a bipartisan US policy research institute of the forthcoming March 24 2019 elections, including the junta's rules governing them and the parties participating.

See also: Hannah Ellis Petersen, 'Junta Finds New Ways to Win an Old Game', Guardian Weekly, 21 December 2018, p.21.

See also: 'Final Election Results Leave Thailand  Divided', The Diplomat, May 2019, pp.5.

Sinpeng, Aim, Hashtag Activism: Social Media and the #FreeYouth Protests in Thailand, Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 53, issue 2, 2021, pp. 192-205

The 2020 protests were the first major pro-democracy demonstrations in Thailand mediated on Twitter. This article examines how activists used hash tags in the early phase of the movement, and argues that they developed collective narratives and spread information, rather than using Twitter to organize protests. The focus within the #FreeYouth campaign was on criticism of the government and calls for democracy, creating a 'pro-democracy collective action framework'.

Sopranzetti, Claudio, Thailand's Relapse: the Implications of the May 2014 Coup, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 75, issue 2, 2016, pp. 299-316

The author notes that at first the May 2014 coup looked like a re-run of earlier coups which resulted in short term military rule and an interim government, but the strength of repression and reorganization of  power soon indicated a more major shift  towards permanent authoritarianism based on new class alliances.  He explores how this new phase has its roots in the earlier development of Thai politics in the 20th century.

Swamy, Arun, Book Review: Future Forward: The Rise and Fall of a Thai Political Party, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 2021

Future Forward was founded as a political party before the 2019 election and managed to come third in the polls, after the junta-controlled coalition and the pro-Thaksin party. It was led by former student radicals who had become successful (key leaders were an industrialist, law professor and TV journalist) and aimed to change the nature of  Thai politics. A year later the government banned it.  Swamy provides a useful summary of the book and its aims, and his own critique - he argues the authors do not explain the continuing strength of the Thaksin party.

See also: McCargo, Duncan and Chattharakul Anyarat, Future Forward: The Rise and Fall of a Thai Political Party, Copenhagen. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2020, pp. 240 (pb).