One Man Killed, Another Stabbed in Myanmar Election Campaign Violence

One man was killed and another stabbed in weekend brawls between rival party supporters in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 general election, with witnesses describing groups of carrying wooden sticks and iron bars to street rallies.

Myo Win Soe died of injuries he sustained Friday during a clash between fellow supporters of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and those of the military-aligned opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)

The administrator of the farming village of Kar Boe in the northwestern Sagaing region, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the violence seemed intentional, with USDP supporters out in force that day.

“Usually both the NLD and USDP supporters rally peacefully. But on that day, there was a fight between the two groups. There were as many as 2,000 supporters parading on 70 vehicles, some of whom brought weapons like iron rods with them,” said Aung Htay.

“They also broadcasted video of the brawl on Facebook. We can’t see clearly who started the fight or who was striking whom in the video, but the fact that they had weapons with them makes it seem like it was planned,” Aung Htay said.

A resident of Kar Boe who requested anonymity to speak freely said the USDP supporters started the fight, even though villagers did not obstruct their motorcade.

“We didn’t engage them either. You may see their actions in the video. I was trapped near the violence, so I witnessed everything. A young person honked at the motorcade to make way for his vehicle. Then the supporters yelled at him for blasting his horns so loud. That’s when the fight broke out,” the resident said.

Seven motorbikes and some COVID-19 protection equipment were damaged in the deadly brawl.

Myo Win Soe’s body was cremated Sunday. It was not immediately clear how he died.

Sources told RFA the police are investigating and interrogating suspects who were allegedly involved in the violence.

A regional government minister told RFA that authorities formed a committee to investigate the incident, but could not provide exact details.

Myint Thein, Sagaing region’s USDP chairman, told RFA that USDP members and supporters "didn’t bring sticks; they just brought flags."

"They didn’t intend to use these poles as sticks to beat. We don’t know whether they were USDP members or not as we don’t know all our members in villages. It could be USDP supporters who wore USDP T-Shirts."

The violence in Kar Boe came about a week after a clash between supporters of both parties injured one man in Sagaing’s neighboring Magwe region.

Mandalay stabbing

In another political brawl on Sunday, a man was stabbed in Meikhtila town in Mandalay region in the country’s center.

A USDP campaign organizer confirmed the stabbing to RFA.

“A supporter wearing a T-shirt with the USDP logo came down from a vehicle to buy betel nuts. That’s when the NLD supporters hit him with sticks just because he was wearing that shirt. That’s how the fight broke out,” said Aung Thin Naing.

“The incident enraged the USDP supporters, and the two sides clashed again in the evening, and that’s when the victim was stabbed in the thigh. The injury was not fatal,” said Aung Thin Naing.

Soe Win Oo, an NLD campaign leader, provided a conflicting account of how Sunday’s violence started.

“The USDP supporters do not usually parade in the streets on Sunday. A USDP supporter’s vehicle aggressively tried to interrupt the NLD supporters’ motorcade. When the fight broke out, I saw the USDP supporters bringing out the sticks from underneath their vehicle,” he said.

“They wouldn’t be carrying sticks on their vehicle unless they had the intention to start a fight,” said Soe Win Oo.

An NLD spokesperson told RFA that the party has encouraged party members and supporters to refrain from violence during the campaign.

“As the election date gets closer, these kinds of clashes occur more frequently. We need to mitigate these conflicts to avoid larger riots. We have the policy not to engage in violence and respond to it with complaints to the authorities,” said Myo Nyunt.

Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) told RFA, “We saw similar incidents during the last election in 2015. NLD candidate Ko Naing Ngan Linn was attacked with a sword in Tharkata township in Yangon.”

“It is normal to see such clashes during election campaigns in a country in transition like Myanmar. I think all political parties need to work together to contain these clashes and avoid harming the election process,” said Sai Ye Kyaw Sar Myint.

Stop the Music

A member of Myanmar’s parliament told RFA he intends to file charges against USDP supporters who played a song with lyrics that disparaged State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi during a political rally.

“We have video record of them playing that song. We have been asked to file charges with the court that they violated article 58 (a) of the election law,” said Sein Kyaw Moe, who represents Mandalay’s Natogyi township in parliament.

Article 58 (d) prohibits campaigners from “giving speeches at meetings, instigation, writing, distributing or using posters or attempting by other means to disturb the voting or election.” The charge carries up to a year in prison or a fine of 100,000 kyat (U.S. $78).

“It is our duty to report the incident. The police are responsible for filing the relevant charges. We will be keeping the evidence that we have,” said the lawmaker.

Another MP from Karen state’s Myawaddy township in the country’s southeast told RFA that USDP supporters there played the same songs Sunday night.

The NLD is seeking reelection after taking power from the pro-military USDP in the last national vote, held in 2015.

Nearly 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties, as well as independents, are vying for more than 1,100 seats available in both houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.

The stiffest competition will again be between the NLD, which is fielding 1,143 candidates, and the USDP, which has put 1,129 candidates forward.

Reported by Aung Thane Kha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.