On This Day

The Day Hired Mobs Began Protesting the Military Proxy Party’s 2020 Election Loss

By The Irrawaddy 21 January 2022

On this day last year, 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 officer, around 2,000 people joined the demonstrations in Hlaing Thar Yar, Twante and Dagon Seikkan townships, wrote U Soe Thane, a former minister in President U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, in his book The Second Democratic Government and Myanmar.

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 is the vice chair.

Regime-appointed Immigration Minister U Khin Yi at a meeting of the Immigration and Population Ministry in Naypyitaw on Nov. 12, 2021. / Ministry of Immigration and Population

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, wrote U Soe Thane, who was himself a USDP candidate in 2020.

In all, U Khin Yi organized 22 pro-military demonstrations between Jan. 21 and Feb. 25—11 before the coup and 11 after, according to U Soe Thane.

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.

Pro-military supporters, including one (left) brandishing a knife, stand over a man after attacking him during a rally in Yangon on Feb. 25, 2021, one of a series of protests targeting the Union Election Commission for announcing the NLD’s poll win. / AFP

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. Yangon has barely seen a pro-junta rally since then.

U Soe Thane, who described the rallies as “the most vocal demonstrations against the UEC,” did not mention said violence in his book, however.

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.

While U Khin Yi was the main organizer of pro-military rallies in southern Myanmar, former Lieutenant General Wai Lwin, who served as deputy defense minister in U Thein Sein’s government, was assigned to organize rallies in the capital Naypyitaw, wrote U Soe Thane.

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