Pro-regime militias are forcing voters in Sagaing and Mandalay regions to attend election campaign meetings where junta administrators are canvassing for the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), local sources say.
Pyu Saw Htee militias have reportedly been forcing households in Shwebo and Kantbalu districts, Sagaing, and Mandalay’s Myingyan district to attend meetings on the so-called election that the junta plans to hold in August. One person per household is required to attend the meetings, where junta officials are canvassing for the USDP.
Such meetings took place in villages in four Myingyan townships last month. According to the district anti-coup committee, residents in Myingyan’s No. 18 Ward were told in the last week of December they would be supplied with rice and oil if they voted in the election.
A resident who attended the meeting in Taungtha said regime officials used racial and religious hate speech to get their message across.
“They mainly talked about the current situation of the military, that power would be transferred after the election, and that People’s Defense Forces are committing terrorist acts while it is the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] that has always saved the country from trouble.”
They also said that people needed to take part in the election, the resident added.
Also urging voters to support pro-military parties is influential monk U Wasawa from the ultranationalist Association for Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha. U Wasawa has been forming Pyu Saw Htee militias in Sagaing since November 2021, with recruitment focused in Kantbalu Township where many male villagers have been conscripted.
One Kantbalu resident said: “The monk has been talking recently about how Buddhism had declined under the National League for Democracy government, and asking villagers to vote for parties that can protect Buddhism and the Bamar race in the upcoming election. He also called for the killing of PDF members and worship of the military. The worst part is that [he] threatens to torch villages if residents refuse to attend his meetings.”
The regime-backed Pyu Saw Htee militias are recruiting ex-military personnel, USDP members and junta supporters to help the military in its campaign against resistance forces across the country. Armed Pyu Saw Htee members carry out killings, atrocities, and arson attacks along with junta forces in resistance strongholds.
Pyu Saw Htee militias led by U Wasawa coerced residents of Karboe Village in Kantbalu District into attending a meeting at the village school on December 25. Some 700 residents from 900 households joined the meeting after militias warned they would be fined if they failed to attend. Officials at the meeting portrayed PDFs as terrorists while also soliciting votes, said one resident, adding that Pyu Saw Htee militias are growing stronger in Kantbalu and subjecting civilians to daily human rights abuses.
In Myingyan district, a group led by former Air Force colonel Nyan Tun Aung of the USDP has ordered households in villages and wards to attend meetings and bring their household registration certificates, warning that the houses of those who refuse will be torched.
Nyan Tun Aung is a senior member of the USDP who was defeated in the 2020 general election in Mandalay Region.
USDP chairman Khin Yi also led campaigning in Sagaing Region in December.
A PDF fighter in Kantbalu Township said: “Military tensions remain high in the township, so it is likely that the voting will take place in Kantbalu town and [other] Pyu Saw Htee strongholds. Their election is unlawful and we will oppose the sham poll.”
Groups of junta-appointed administrators and teachers who didn’t join the Civil Disobedience Movement have been ringing doorbells in urban wards of Mandalay since late December to count voters. They also routinely summon voters to the meetings, an activist from Natoegyi Township said.
“Uneducated people will be swayed. But many people are aware of the objective conditions of the country, so what they are doing now will not succeed,” the activist said.
The military seized power from the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government after the NLD won the 2020 general election by a landslide. In his Jan. 4 Independence Day address, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said power would be transferred to the party that wins the vote.
The parallel National Unity Government, the NLD, and other revolutionary forces have called the election a sham aimed at cementing military rule, an assessment echoed by democratic countries across the world.
The regime plans to replace the current first-past-the-post system with proportional representation at the election. With the military constitutionally guaranteed 25 percent of seats in Parliament, the USDP and other pro-military parties only need 26 percent of total votes to form the government and claim legitimacy.