Ma Ba Tha nationalists hold pre-election rally to ‘protect national religion’ 

Members of the Ma Ba Tha nationalist group gathered in Yangon’s Seikkyi Kanaungto township on Saturday to urge residents to vote for a party that would “protect the national religion.”

Local authorities said that at least 15 people gathered for the rally, which took place despite a ban on campaign activities on the day before an election. Residents said the number was closer to 50.

An attempt by local election officials to stop the rally led to an altercation, according to residents.

San Min Oo, a police sub-inspector at the Seikkyi Kanaungto township police station, said the conflict was based on a misunderstanding. 

He said that the election officials had misconstrued the rally as a campaign activity, when it was actually about supporting Buddhism.

Under Myanmar’s election laws, it is illegal to use religion for campaign purposes. Violators could face a year in prison, a 100,000-kyat fine, or both.

Despite the law, residents say that Khin Yi, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) vice-chair who is contesting in the Seikkyi Kanaungto township constituency, regularly puts up Buddhist flags with party signboards.

On Tuesday, campaigners wearing shirts that read “Protect the national religion” handed out pamphlets urging people to “vote for someone that will protect the national religion” in Mandalay and Yangon’s Hlegu township. 

The Seikkyi Kanaungto township election officials declined to comment on Saturday’s incident, saying they had yet to receive instructions on how to proceed with the case.

Naing Aung Myint, Seikkyi Kanaungto township’s deputy township administrator, said the rally organizers could also face punishment for holding the rally without permission.

A USDP signboard is seen next to a Buddhist flag in Seikkyi Kanaungto. (Supplied)

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