Election 2020

Violence Erupts Shortly After Myanmar Political Parties Hit Campaign Trail

By San Yamin Aung 24 September 2020

YANGON—In the run-up to the Nov. 8 poll, several incidents of election-related violence have been reported in the first few weeks of the campaign period, which began on Sept. 8, especially in areas where the two biggest parties—the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—are facing tough electoral battles. The number of cases is much higher than during the pre-election period in 2015.

Here are the major incidents of election violence reported since Sept. 8, including threats, destruction of campaign posters, rioting and the use of hand grenades to intimidate an election official.

NLD supporters tour around Mandalay Region on Sept. 24. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

NLD campaign posters vandalized

At least a dozen election posters for the NLD were vandalized in seven locations around the country in the first few days of the campaign.

Party officials told The Irrawaddy that posters in the Coco Islands in Yangon Region; Maha Aung Myay and Patheingyi townships in Mandalay Region; Zayarthiri Township in Naypyitaw; Monywa Township in Sagaing Region; Hakha Township in Chin State; Paung, Chaungzon and Kyaikmayaw townships in Mon State; and Taungup Township in Rakhine State were targeted. A few more cases elsewhere have also been reported.

The earliest incident occurred in Chin State on the first day of the election campaign period. U Biak Kung from the NLD’s Chin State Information Committee said someone used a knife to slash portraits of the party’s candidates on a poster in Hakha Township on the night of Sept. 8.

A destroyed NLD campaign poster in Naypyitaw’s Zeyathiri Township (top); and another destroyed NLD poster in Rakhine’s Taunguk Township (bottom). / Facebook

The election law’s articles 57 and 58 carry the threat of one year’s imprisonment for interfering with the electoral process.

In the Coco Islands—where top generals are running for seats representing the military-backed USDP, the NLD found that four of the six campaign posters it erected there had been torn on the night of Sept. 10, according to U Win Ko Ko Win, one of the NLD candidates contesting in a Coco Islands constituency. The islands’ population is largely made up of military personnel and their families, as well as civil servants. The USDP secured victories there in both the 2010 and 2015 elections.

In another military electoral stronghold, Naypyitaw’s Zeyarthiri Township, posters in Kyopyin Village featuring portraits of NLD candidates were slashed on Sept. 11. A 19-year-old suspect was arrested in the case, said U Thet Htwe, chairman of the NLD office in the township.

Boys who were injured during the clash in Napyitaw. / Maung Maung Swe / Facebook

Even before the vandalism occurred, party workers faced obstacles putting the posters up on Sept. 8, U Thet Htwe said.

“The owner of the house who agreed to let the poster be put up near his home told us that he was threatened by three village leaders, who said he would be kicked out if he accepted us,” he said. The party has opened a case against the trio under the election law.

Boy beaten for playing NLD song 

A 13-old-year boy selling jasmine flowers on his bicycle was beaten while wearing a red shirt with the NLD logo and playing the party’s campaign song by a man in a street in Yangon’s Thaketa Township on Sept. 12. The young vendor was hit with a bamboo stick and his loudspeaker was destroyed. The offender told local media he had been annoyed by the noise made by the boy’s loudspeaker for some time. The case was settled with the offender agreeing to compensate the boy for the cost of having his injuries treated.

A USDP supporter’s scooter lies destroyed after the clash in Naypyitaw. / Maung Maung Swe / Facebook

USDP convoy, youth in NLD shirts clash in capital

While on the campaign trail in Naypyitaw’s Pobbathiri Township, some USDP campaigners in a convoy of motorbikes clashed with four boys on Sept. 16. An uncle of one of the boys said the clash started when a few USDP campaigners stopped their motorbikes and uttered obscenities at the youths. The USDP also said the youths attacked the convoy with slingshots.

Two of the four youths and three members of the USDP convoy were injured. The two sides have opened cases against each other under charges of committing obscene acts and causing hurt.

A screenshot of USDP supporters during the clash in Mektila.

Riot in Meiktila

Hundreds of USDP supporters rioted at noon on Sunday in Nyaung Kaing Village in Mandalay Region’s Meiktila, a USDP stronghold. In a video that went viral on Facebook, USDP campaigners wearing green shirts with the party’s logo can be seen shouting and throwing rocks at the home of an NLD supporter during the clash. The house owner opened a case against the rioters. At least six USDP campaigners were arrested under charges of committing obscene acts and intentionally causing hurt.

The USDP claimed NLD supporters in the village initiated the clash by obstructing their movements.

Grenade scare at Naypyitaw election official’s home

Two unexploded hand grenades were discovered at Naypyitaw Election Sub-Commission Chairman U Thein Htwe’s home, after the Union Election Commission (UEC) dismissed some opposition parties’ calls to postpone the election.

Two unexploded hand grenades found at the Naypyitaw UEC chief’s residence. / The Irrawaddy

Police and explosive ordnance disposal officers cleared away the grenades soon after the discoveries. The first grenade was found late on Saturday night and the second was discovered at noon on Sunday. Both devices were reportedly thrown into the compound from the street.

Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said military experts and local police at the scene had determined the grenades were made in a neighboring country. He did not say which country, adding that security personnel were investigating the incident.

The former ruling and military proxy USDP and 23 allied parties have sought to delay the election over the COVID-19 outbreak. A few other parties added their voices to the request, but most parties including the NLD and ethnic parties have not joined them.

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