A prominent Buddhist nationalist who was jailed last year after leading an anti-Muslim mob that shut down Ramadan prayers in Yangon will run to be an MP in November’s election.
Michael Kyaw Myint will compete for a Lower House seat for South Dagon township representing the Yeomanry Development Party (YDP), which he founded in May last year using his wife as an intermediary.
Shortly afterwards, he led a group of over 100 people threatening to “tear down” a mosque in South Dagon where local Muslims had gathered for Ramadan prayers.
He was jailed for a year under a law against causing “fear or alarm to the public” after the incident.
The 43-year-old said in a recent Facebook video that the YDP’s main goals included helping poorer people to own homes and reducing taxes. But he also risked running afoul of Myanmar’s election laws by mentioning religion.
“Our nationalism and religion are being compromised and slowly fading away and our party sees that,” he said in a video posted in July.
In another video, in which he also promoted the party, he said nationalistic and religious values were at risk of disappearing, and that voters should prioritize political parties that protect these values.
Article 10(i) of the election law states that parties and candidates can be banned from competing if they use religious ideologies in their campaigns.
Other YDP candidates have also mentioned religion while promoting the party.
Mya Mya Khine, who is running for a seat in Shwe Pyi Thar township, wrote on Facebook this week that her main reasons for running were to protect the “most valued” religion in the country and to serve the interests of common people.
Tin Hlaing, who is running for a different seat in the same township, and Aye Aye Kywe, who is running in Tamwe, wrote on their pages that the party would elevate nationalistic and religious values.
“Let’s vote for the YDP so the public can stay peaceful, doing our part to maintain our religious values,” wrote Cho Cho Myint, a YDP candidate running for a Lower House seat in Tamwe, on August 14.
The posts also risk running afoul of a rule that bars campaigning before the official campaign period, which begins on September 8.
Dr Kyaw Soe Win, chair of the Union Election Commission, said his office could not investigate unless a government department or another candidate made a complaint.
“If the governmental departments inform us that a candidate is infringing these rules, we’ll disqualify the candidate,” he told Myanmar Now. “But we haven’t received any instruction. We do not have the power to take it into our own hands.”
The YDP party has over 8,000 members and will be running in 24 constituencies across Yangon, Bago, Sagaing and Mandalay, Michael Kyaw Myint told Myanmar Now in a recent interview.
Party members and candidates have been told to refrain from campaigning with religious messages, despite their strong nationalistic stance, he said.
He added that while he did not deny talking about religion alongside politics online, his party would not draw an association between religion, nationalism, and politics.
“Our nationalism will always be within us,” he said. “But that has nothing to do with how a political party functions. We’ll be doing everything we’re allowed to do legally. And what we’re not allowed to do, the party will be separating it from politics.”
He added: “What happened in South Dagon with the mosque and the religious stuff, that was from a nationalistic perspective. But as a political party, there are procedures, and dos-and-don’ts.”
He said that he would focus on solving the problems of common people and developing the local area if he wins in November.
In 2017, Michael Kyaw Myint was also jailed after accusing the NLD-appointed Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and other officials of taking bribes.