Myanmar Military’s Proxy Party Woos Votes in Shan State

By The Irrawaddy 16 January 2023

The chairman of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) travelled to Taunggyi in southern Shan State over the weekend to woo ethnic support for the junta’s planned election.

Khin Yi was making his first visit to an ethnic state following trips to meet USDP members in Bamar-majority regions including Yangon, Mandalay, Ayeyarwady, Bago and Sagaing. The military’s proxy party performed well in Shan State in the 2020 general election, losing only narrowly to the National League for Democracy (NLD) despite its otherwise humiliating defeat on the national scale.

A henchman for successive military regimes, Khin Yi was installed as USDP chairman last October after junta boss Min Aung Hlaing deemed him the right vehicle to fulfill his dream of becoming president.

Khin Yi met with 40 representatives from eight ethnic culture associations on Sunday and warned them of people who “live in the same land and drink water from the same river” but want to sow discord between ethnic groups.

Junta troops in Shan State are facing an onslaught from two ethnic armed organizations – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army – as well as People’s Defense Forces.

The USDP chairman also urged local collaboration in efforts to hold the election, his first such call since embarking on the campaign trail in November last year. In previous meetings with party members, he focused on slamming the NLD, justifying the coup, and criticizing People’s Defense Forces.

Preparations are underway after Min Aung Hlaing said earlier this month that his regime will seek to hold an election nationwide. The junta-appointed election body is currently conducting a census to update voter lists.

Khin Yi recently met officials of 37 pro-military political parties in Naypyitaw. The majority of the parties represented had indirectly encouraged Min Aung Hlaing to stage a coup during a meeting ahead of the November 2020 election.

The USDP chief has sought more support for the junta’s poll from 29 so-called social organizations in Yangon. He has also met with Insein Ywama Sayadaw, former chairman of the ultranationalist Association for Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha, and former Union ministers and chief ministers of Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.

Others consulted on his campaign trail include retired police officers, as well as prominent Karen figure Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung, who now sits on the junta’s administrative body, the State Administration Council.

With major parties like the NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy boycotting the junta’s proposed election slated for August, the USDP is bound to be the winner. The military regime is also introducing a proportional representation system to ensure the USDP wins more seats than in 2020. But if it fails to get enough votes, the USDP can count on the junta-appointed election body to help rig the poll.

The so-called election has been dismissed by the shadow civilian National Unity government and democracies around the world as a sham and a bid to legitimize military rule.

Khin Yi masterminded pro-military rallies in Yangon before and after the February coup in 2021, when he was still vice chair of the USDP.