Myanmar's military has taken control of the country overnight and detained President Win Myint and the Southeast Asian's de-facto leader, Noble Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military on Monday said it was handing power to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing because of "election fraud".

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The coup came after weeks of increasing tension between the military and civilian government after the former alleged election irregularities in last November’s polls, which returned the National League of Democracy (NLD) to power with an even larger share of the vote.

State of emergency

Military television said a state of emergency had been declared for one year and power transferred. Soldiers are now already on the streets of the capital Nay Pyi Daw and the former capital and commercial city of Yangon.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others were detained in the capital Naypyidaw before dawn on Monday, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told press agency AFP, just hours before parliament was scheduled to sit for the first time since the elections.

The US and Australia were quick to express their concern, calling for the release of the detained NLD leaders and the restoration of democracy.

US comment

"The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Detained: a portrait of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi Photo: AFP/SCANPIX

Australia said the military was "once again seeking to seize control" of the country.

"We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully," Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

Election allegations

Within hours of the coup, communications networks in Myanmar were again restricted with some mobile phone networks reportedly being out of action.

The military for weeks has alleged irregularities in the polls, claiming there were millions of instances of voter fraud.

On Thursday, the military’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing threatened the nation with its greatest political crisis since the transition to democracy started 13 years ago by claiming he would abolish the constitution.

“The constitution is the Mother Law. We have to follow the constitution. If the law is not respected or followed, we must abolish it. Even if it is the constitution, we must abolish it,” he said in a speech quoted by the military’s Facebook page.

However, just two days later, the military released an official statement, clarifying Min Aung Hlaing remarks.

“The Tatmadaw will defend the 2008 Constitution and only act within the boundary of existing laws,” it said.

Uneasy democracy

The NLD won landslide victories in both the 2015 and 2020 general elections, which gave the party a clear majority even though a quarter of the seats are reserved for the military.

The 2008 Constitution allows for democratic elections, while ensuring the military retains control over certain key institutions.

However, even some seasoned politicians did not believe the military would actually stage a coup.

A NLD parliamentarian, requesting anonymity, told Al Jazeera he never took the military’s threat seriously.

“A dog that will bite never barks. So we do not believe that there will be a coup. In the past throughout history, whenever the military staged a coup, they never announced in advance,” he said.