Junta election commission officials on high alert following assassination of senior member

Officials from the military council’s election commission headquarters in Naypyitaw are taking heightened security precautions following the assassination of a senior official within the body by a resistance group earlier this month. 

Sai Kyaw Thu, the 58-year-old deputy director general of the commission—which was reinstituted by the junta after the February 2021 coup—was shot dead by an urban guerrilla force in Yangon on April 22. The group, calling itself For the Yangon, claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the deceased as having played a role in the military’s electoral fraud case against detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The retired lieutenant colonel was a prosecution witness in the closed court trial, which in September of last year resulted in a three-year sentence for Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint and former minister of the President’s Office Min Thu.

In the wake of Sai Kyaw Thu’s assassination, senior election officials in Naypyitaw were said to have begun holding near daily meetings about security issues, and had discussed reporting their travel plans to the commission and the junta’s home affairs ministry, from which they would request accompaniment by armed personnel. 

“They were really frightened by the death of the deputy director general,” a source close to the election commission told Myanmar Now. “They are mainly discussing security measures for when they go to places outside of Naypyitaw.”

The members have also reportedly been arranging for their relatives who are also employees within the junta’s administrative mechanism to be relocated from other cities throughout the country to the junta administrative capital for their protection. 

Myanmar Now has learned that at least 18 election commission officials, mostly former military officers, testified as witnesses for the prosecution in the junta’s electoral fraud case against leaders from the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) government. 

Aung Myo Lwin, a director within the commission, was named the plaintiff in the cases.

“Everyone involved, including the director himself and all of the witnesses, are scared now,” said another source with ties to the commission. 

A staff member working in the regime’s administration in Naypyitaw said that the assassination had shaken up those in other junta ministries, and that they had been told to report any plans to leave Naypyitaw to their department heads, due to the perceived lack of security outside of the area. 

“I’m not scared, but those working at departments known to be of particular help to the military council, such as the Union Election Commission, immigration, general administration, as well those who are well-known [for their junta ties] and living close to the general population—they should be careful,” he explained. 

After Sai Kyaw Thu’s assassination, a spokesperson for the publicly mandated National Unity Government’s (NUG) Yangon Region Military Command Office—which operates in opposition to the junta—warned that the guerrilla group that killed the election commission official had plans to continue targeting not only army officers, but any collaborators who are involved in sustaining military rule. 

The military rejected the results of Myanmar’s 2020 general election, which the NLD won a majority, using widely unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud as a pretext for seizing power in the coup months later. 

The junta has since planned to hold new elections under its authority. In February, when it extended its period of emergency rule, the military council hinted that a future vote would be delayed indefinitely, citing challenges to establishing security and stability throughout the country. 

Currently chairing the regime’s election commission is Thein Soe, who was also the chair of the body at the time of the military-controlled 2010 election, which was widely criticised as being neither free nor fair. 

He was re-appointed to the role soon after the coup two years ago. 

Under Thein Soe’s leadership, the commission declared on March 28 that major parties including the NLD, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the Arakan League for Democracy had been abolished for failing to re-register under conditions set by the junta. 

Several ethnic armed organisations, the NUG, and other resistance and opposition groups have declared that they will not recognise the legitimacy of a vote controlled by the coup regime. 

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