Chronicle of a Coup: The Day I Will Never Forget

As a former government servant in Naypyidaw, Ma Lin Mya recalls her reaction to the February 1 coup.

Image courtesy of a photographer who wishes to remain unnamed

A typical day  |  January 31, 2021

A sunny day, a typical day in the heart of the nation. The weather was warm. I lay down in the sun on a bench in the yard thinking about the meeting that I had at the Hluttaw concerning the work for the coming quarter with the subnational parliaments. A Skype notification came from one of my colleagues asking what I thought about the possibility of a coup.

A coup? 

I vividly remembered my telephone conversation with a senior journalist regarding his opinion on the matter. He maintained that General Min Aung Hlaing by himself had no ability to stage a coup. He was a nobody in the Tatmadaw; he wasn’t powerful like General Than Shwe had been.

As far as I can remember, the day passed as usual. I met with friends in the evening and surfed the internet later that night. I read the news that both the elected and the military-appointed Members of Parliament had been vaccinated two days before. I saved the agenda of the first meeting of the first session of the Third Hluttaw that was uploaded on the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament of Myanmar)  website and shared it with my colleagues via email. There were also agendas for the election of the Speakers and Deputy Speakers, both in the Upper and Lower Houses. As usual, I went to bed around midnight and set my alarm for 7:30 the next morning. I am not a morning person, but I wanted to watch the meeting of the first day of the Third Hluttaw.

The day I will never forget  |  February 1, 2021

As planned, I woke up at 7:30 to the alarm on my phone, picked it up, and tried to call a friend who had invited me to have breakfast. But I couldn’t make the call; there were no signal bars. I thought perhaps that the phone wasn’t working or, since it happens fairly often, that the system was down. I awakened my cousin who was asleep in his room in the house we shared, and asked him to check his phone’s signal since he used a different mobile service. His phone also had no bars.

We wandered out to a nearby tea shop hoping that we might discover something, but everyone there also seemed baffled by the situation. Not only were the mobile services down, but the television channels weren’t functioning either. Nobody knew what was happening. After breakfast at the tea shop we went to the home of some friends, elders in the community, but they were as puzzled as the rest of us. Since we didn’t have mobile service, I couldn’t communicate with my parents, my friends, my colleagues or my office.

We decided to go to the municipal guesthouse where MPs reside when they attend the Hluttaws’ meetings. As we left my friends’ house, I met a guy whom I knew who earned money transporting people from place to place on his motorbike. He told me that, early in the morning, on their Myawaddy television channel, the military had declared a state of emergency. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him whether he himself had seen that news. He hadn’t; he’d heard it from someone who had watched it.

I told my cousin that this was impossible nonsense. Everything was on track politically, so it could not have happened. There would be no benefit for the military if they did so. I kept repeating this as my cousin and I headed to the municipal guesthouse on the back of our guy’s motorbike. When we passed the side entrance gate we saw that it was blocked by a truck laden with well-armed soldiers. I could not believe what I was seeing. My heart began to beat faster as my worry and fear suddenly deepened. We drove on to the main gate where three large trucks and two crew-cab pickups full of soldiers were stationed. The soldiers were holding their guns as if ready to shoot. I couldn’t see any MPs, but I dared not go near the fence. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. The world had stopped and I had no idea what to do.

We drove on to check the parliament buildings to make sure that what we were seeing was actually happening. On the way, I formed a desperate wish that nothing untoward had occurred and prayed that President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were unharmed, but I didn’t know whom to invoke. Near the Royal Lotus Roundabout, my cousin and I saw about ten military vehicles blocking the 20-lane highway in front of the parliament buildings. As we approached, a soldier blew a whistle and told us to turn back. We tried to go nearer but another soldier pointed his gun at us, so we retreated to the roundabout from where I stared at them, unable to think. 

First, I felt outrage, then I started to feel as if I were sinking into a dark hole. Within a few short hours my life had been turned upside down.

As we got back home a friend arrived and suggested that we have a look at the other entrance to the parliament. We got in his car and drove to the Ministry of Planning and Finance where we saw about a dozen army vehicles, including some mounted with cannon that were pointed toward the street. They looked as if they were ready to fire if threatened.

When we returned to the tea shop everyone there seemed frustrated, everyone seemed worried, everyone seemed sad. I could feel dejection in the air around us.

Last night, I had been full of hopes and plans. I had been excited at the prospect of watching the parliamentary plenary meetings the next morning. The months of February and March were fully planned with activities in the national and subnational parliaments. We were about to meet with several people about those plans. It had taken a lot of time and effort to build trust among the MPs and the national and subnational parliamentary leaders. But this morning those power-hungry military monsters had demolished everything that we had built. It was way beyond awful.

Around 1:00 pm, I heard that the Myanma Posts and Telecommunications phone system was working again, so I went to the Junction Mall, bought an MPT SIM card and called my parents who lived in another city. They were really worried because they had not been able to reach me throughout the morning.

That evening I made a call to a female MP who told me in a very calm voice that she was ready to be arrested if the soldiers came. She had packed a few necessary things. She sounded very determined and confident about her choice, without any hint of regret for having served as an MP. 

After that call, her words still haunting me, I cried aloud like a child. The rest of the evening was heavy with sighs.

Aftermath  |  September 18, 2021

It is exceedingly difficult to relive these memories. As I write, remembering those phone calls, the tears well up again. During the five years from 2016 to 2020, everyone had worked so very hard, putting every effort into adopting democratic practices, strengthening the legislative process, and enhancing the capabilities of the MPs and legislative staff. Both the individual MPs and the institution itself had toiled together and had come so far. Now, utter desolation arises within me and sticks in my throat, as it did on February 1, when I figured out what had just happened to my country.

Ma Lin Mya is a pseudonym chosen by a former government employee who, for her safety, must remain anonymous. Her post launches our upcoming Chronicle of a Coup series, which features first-hand accounts of the days, weeks, and months following the February 1 coup in Myanmar. We encourage other authors to submit their own accounts.