EACH weekend in Singapore, the Myanmar diaspora congregates at the Peninsula Plaza for news – and a taste – of home.
Customers stream into a pop-up food stall graced by a life-sized image of Myanmar’s deposed leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, where volunteers sell home-made delicacies such as tea-leaf salad and Mohinga, a rice-noodle and fish soup.
The stall’s owner, May Kyaw Soe Nyunt, says she takes in about S$5,000 (RM15,500) in a weekend, with all the funds sent to her homeland to help those having to endure life under the military regime.
“I want the world to know people in Myanmar are suffering,” she said through a translator.
Singapore is one link in a global fund-raising effort that’s sprung up since the army seized control in Myanmar last February. With the economy in meltdown and no official international assistance, the exiled government is seeking to raise US$1bil (RM4bil) to look after its supporters and maintain its challenge to the rule of the armed forces, the Tatmadaw.
But there’s a problem: The country’s banking system is tightly controlled by the junta, which designates the democratic National Unity Government (NUG) a terrorist group. So activists and the shadow government alike have to resort to unofficial channels to ensure the money escapes the regime’s clutches – and for the NUG, that includes embracing cryptocurrencies.
It has already recognised Tether, a digital coin intended as a proxy to the US dollar, as a means to speed up its trade, services and payment systems. But the NUG is prepared to go further in defiance of the Central Bank of Myanmar, which banned the use of all digital currencies in 2020 and threatened imprisonment and fines for violations.
“When the time is right and if it’s needed, we will definitely expand the list of our approved cryptocurrencies,” Tin Tun Naing, the NUG minister of planning, finance and investment, said.
While it’s unclear how much cryptocurrency the NUG has received, or how they can convert it to material support on the ground, the group itself is gaining traction globally. The European and French parliaments adopted resolutions recognising the NUG as Myanmar’s only legitimate government, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has tweeted support.
Many of those in the democratic resistance have long garnered backing from billionaire George Soros.
According to the present Ministry of Information, he visited Myanmar four times between March 2014 and January 2017 and met with Aung San Suu Kyi twice, while his son Alexander Soros visited seven times from 2017 to 2020 and met with her six times. Soros said back in 2012 that he had been supporting the democracy movement in Myanmar for 20 years.
Myanmar’s military government announced last year that actions would be taken against the Soros-backed Open Society Myanmar (OSM) for breaking the rules for organisations, having frozen its savings totalling some US$4mil (RM17mil) deposited at four local banks. On the ground, the situation remains grim, with Myanmar on the precipice of full-blown military conflict. Among the diaspora, many are willing to donate if it will help ease suffering and bring about a return to democracy.
At May Kyaw Soe Nyunt’s stall in Singapore, some forgo the food and simply drop off packets of cash. She says she is unable to return home as long as the junta is in place.
So she does the next best thing by raising funds, arguing that she has nothing left to fear. — Bloomberg