An online lottery created by Myanmar’s parallel government has been so well received that all tickets put up for sale were sold out in just over one hour on the launch day despite the regime’s official threats to punish anyone who plays.
Intended to raise funds for civil servants who are on strike to protest against the regime, the “Victorious Spring” lottery, named after Myanmar’s popular revolution against the junta that started in February, was introduced by the National Unity Government (NUG) on Sunday.
Many government staff—at least hundreds if not thousands—have left their jobs in the wake of the coup in February to protest against military rule. The junta has retaliated against them by either jailing or sacking them, or issuing arrest warrants for them, prompting many to go into hiding.
Their Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) has proven so impactful that the regime is still struggling to run the country properly. The NUG said 70 percent of the proceeds from the lottery would go to support the strikers, while the remainder would be kept by the winners. The NUG was formed by lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government and other ethnic representatives in April and has enjoyed popular support at home and abroad.
The move—the sale of lottery tickets by a shadow government to raise funds—is unprecedented in Myanmar’s history. So is the public support it has garnered.
All 50,000 lottery tickets were sold out online in just over an hour after their launch on Sunday, earning the NUG 100 million kyats (about US$60,760).
“Thank you very much for the eager support. We request that you please be patient as there are many people who want to play the lottery,” organizers said on the lottery’s Facebook page, soothing people who didn’t have a chance to buy a ticket.
The lottery comes as the regime’s national lottery has been left almost shattered following the coup. In pre-coup days, it was hugely popular for its lucrative 1.5-billion-kyat first prize. However, it was reduced to one third that amount in March as the public boycotts payments of any kind to the government, including paying taxes and buying government lottery tickets.
For most of the people playing the NUG lottery, gambling is the last thing they have in mind. Instead, they see it as a way to give as much financial support as they can to the government they believe in. In other words, it means lending a helping hand to topple the regime.
“I am just contributing what I can. I am not interested whether I win or not,” one supporter in Yangon said on condition of anonymity.
He had good reason to remain anonymous; in the days before the lottery’s launch, the regime issued threats, via state-run newspapers, of legal action against anyone who participated.
In an interview, U Nyi Nyi Hlaing, a director of the Aung Balay national lottery, called the NUG’s lottery “illegal” and said anyone involved—operators as well as players—could be punished.
“As the payment is made online, the Central Bank would take serious action against those involved in financial transactions,” he said, referring to the country’s nascent digital payment system.
Unsurprisingly, his warnings fell on deaf ears.
On Monday, the second day, the NUG had to abruptly halt ticket sales as the system was overwhelmed, requesting people to hold their generosity a while as it needed to process more than 70,000 tickets sold as of that afternoon.
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