Election 2020

In Myanmar's Election, Military Proxy Party Fares Better in Militia-Controlled Areas

By Hset Paing Toe 17 November 2020

Yangon — The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has retained parliamentary seats in areas controlled by military-backed militias in eastern and northern Shan State.

The party formed by ex-generals secured 15 Lower House seats in the Union Parliament and 24 seats in the state parliament in townships under the control of people’s militias, including in Kutkai, Tangyan, Hopang, Laukkai, Konkyan, Kunlong, Monghpyak, Mongping, Namhsan, Mawkmai, Mongpan, Mong Hsat, Mongkhet, Mongyang and Mongton townships.

People’s militias were formed under the USDP government. They are trained, armed and commanded by the Tatmadaw or Myanmar’s military. At the Union level, they are under the command of the Directorate of People’s Militia and Border Guard Force.

Some of militia leaders contested the Nov. 8 general election for the USDP as candidates.

In Tangyan Township’s Shan State parliamentary seat, Manpang militia leader Sai Mon won with a majority of around 2,000 votes over the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

Sai Myint Maung, chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in northern Shan State, said: “The militia leader stood in Tangyan. As people’s militias are involved in the electoral process, it will take time [to ensure free elections].”

There are over 200 people’s militias in Shan State with between 10 and 10,000 troops. They are named after the village-tracts where they are based.

Sai Pa, who leads the SNLD in Tangyan, said militias may not directly coerce voters to back the USDP but they tell villagers they have a responsibility to avoid militia leaders losing face in the election.

Sai Pa said: “Only the Burmese-majority areas are experiencing political changes. There are few changes in remote areas. They lag behind Burmese-majority areas in infrastructural development. There has been little change. Many people did not know the government had changed and they still carry old fears.”

The USDP denies the allegations. U Kyaw Zaw Win, a spokesman for the USDP in northern Shan State, said the party has no ties with the militias, Tatmadaw or any other armed organization.

U Ye Myo Hein, executive director of the Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, said: “USDP leaders who are former generals influence militia leaders.”

Some villagers in areas controlled by the Tarmoenye militia in Kutkai, on condition of anonymity, said the majority of voters are uneducated and live in fear.

Campaign managers for political parties said most voters have little political awareness.

SNLD candidate Kya Pe in Monghpyak Township said he found voters closer to towns had started to vote more freely.

Monghpyak, controlled by the Nanyun militia, the biggest in eastern Shan State, saw heavy victories for the USDP in this month’s election.

“We would have definitely won if people’s militias were not involved. They have the advantage of using people’s militias,” said Kya Pe.

In the 2015 general election, the USDP emerged as the largest party in the Shan State parliament with 31 seats. But in the Nov. 8 election, the National League for Democracy took 33 seats, followed by the SNLD with 27 seats and the USDP with 24 seats.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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