On this day in 2021, a series of demonstrations targeting the then Union Election Commission (UEC) over the results of the 2020 general election started in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
Orchestrated by U Khin Yi—a former Myanmar military general and one of the key conspirators in the military coup that would take place less than two weeks later—around 2,000 people joined the demonstrations in Hlaing Thar Yar, Twante and Dagon Seikkan townships.
The demonstrations followed the UEC’s announcement of the National League for Democracy (NLD)’s landslide victory in the 2020 poll—and by extension the heavy defeat of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), of which U Khin Yi was the vice chair at that time.
Six months later, with the NLD government having been toppled by the military, the former brigadier general and Myanmar Police chief was rewarded by being appointed the junta’s immigration and population minister, a position he had previously held in U Thein Sein’s administration.
The anti-UEC demonstrations continued daily until the military coup on Feb. 1 and became blatantly pro-military, or pro-coup, rallies after the takeover.
In all, U Khin Yi organized 22 pro-military demonstrations between Jan. 21 and Feb. 25—11 before the coup and 11 afterwards.
At those demonstrations, pro-junta groups carried both Myanmar and military flags, as well as banners proclaiming their support for the junta, along with clubs, which they used to smash car windows.
On Jan. 30, a crowd of pro-military marchers beat passers-by and onlookers near Yangon’s Bahan Market. The following day, they burned NLD flags on display at a printing shop on Shwegondaing Road in Yangon’s Bahan Township.
Some 10 people were injured during a pro-military rally in downtown Yangon on Feb. 25 when supporters of Myanmar’s military beat and stabbed people after being booed by bystanders.
Based on record books dropped at the rallies, many of the participants are believed to have been hired to attend for a wage of 3,000 to 7,000 kyats (US$2.10-$5). A widely circulated video shows a USDP official telling a man that he would pay him 20,000 kyats if he could bring a truck full of people to the rally.
U Khin Yi later stepped down from the ministerial position and is now chairman of the USDP, tasked with steering the party through the election which the regime plans to hold later this year.