Sudden arrival of soldiers in swing seats seen as bid to boost USDP’s chances

Hundreds of Tatmadaw soldiers have shown up in areas of Kachin and Shan states in recent weeks, raising concerns that they have been bussed in to vote for the military’s preferred candidates on November 8. 

Over 400 soldiers arrived in Sumprabum, northern Kachin state, in early August, and registered to vote, local election candidates told Myanmar Now. 

There is no military base in the town and soldiers are camped in schools there. 

Their arrival brings the number of registered voters in the town to 1,862, meaning they could easily tip the vote in favour of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“Soldiers are now waiting to vote in our constituency. They’re ready. Nothing like this happened in the 2015 election,” said Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, a Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) candidate running for a Lower House seat in the town.

“It seems like the party they vote for will end up winning,” he added. 

J Htu Yaw, a regional National League for Democracy (NLD) MP in Sumprabum, received 294 votes in the last election, beating her USDP rival by just 17 votes. 

The NLD has asked the Union Election Commission (UEC) to check if the soldiers had registered legally, J Htu Yaw said. 

It is unclear exactly when the soldiers arrived in the area. The Election Law says a person must live in a constituency for at least 90 days before polling day in order to be allowed to vote there.

Four candidates in Sumprabum are running for a Lower House seat there and 11 are competing for two seats in the Kachin state parliament.

KSPP supporters at a campaign event in Sumprabum (KSPP)

Aung Naing Oo, the local election commission secretary, said his office accepted the soldiers’ applications to register based on the rules. “We’re following the regulations and evidence as necessary.”

But he said his office could not release a voting list featuring the soldiers’ names for security reasons. 

Win Bo, a member of the NLD’s election victory committee, said there are also recently migrated soldiers in Kachin’s Tanai and N Jang Yang townships.

Kachin state’s NLD-appointed chief minister, Dr Khat Aung, has urged the committee to campaign harder in regions where soldiers have recently arrived, Win Bo said. 

“He let us know which units have moved here and urged us to think about what we should do on our end and how we’ll campaign. It doesn’t matter that they’ve moved here, we’ll still do our best and proceed honestly,” he said.

An NLD election victory committee report said Sumprabum now has about 500 military personnel and N Jang Yang has about 400 who moved in August. Myanmar Now could not independently verify those figures.

The soldiers moved to Tanai from Mogaung, which is also in Kachin state, at the beginning of the year, Win Bo said.

Officials take part in a public awareness campaign about voter lists in Tanai township, Kachin (Union Election Commission)

Lin Lin Oo, the NLD MP representing Tanai in the Lower House, said: “We have to try a lot harder because these units have shown up. Mostly, we need the public to come to the polls.”

There are 32,298 eligible voters in Tanai. Lin Lin Oo beat his USDP rival in 2015 by just 189 votes.  

Tanai’s election commission secretary, Kyaw Thet Paing, said the military voter list would be revealed before the end of this month. 

He said he could not reveal how many people had registered to vote with Form Three, a document that newly arrived soldiers would have to fill in in order to be eligible. 

“We’ll be following the UEC’s guidelines,” he said.

Major General Zaw Min Tun of the military’s True News Information Team did not answer calls seeking comment. 

Concerns over double voting 

In Shan state, a Myanmar military unit from Infantry Battalion 256 arrived at the Namtaung village group in Namtu on August 13 and registered 100 soldiers to vote the next day, said Nang Kham Aye, the local Lower House MP with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

Their arrival therefore came fewer than 90 days before the November 8 election date, she said. 

“They would only have been eligible if they arrived here six or seven days earlier. But most of them arrived in the middle or end of the month, I’m concerned about dishonesty when it comes to the vote,” she told Myanmar Now.

The 100 are among a total of 1,003 soldiers who are stationed in 13 village tracts in the region and have registered to vote, she said. The others are from Infantry Battalions 324, 101 and 206.

She was also concerned that the soldiers may vote twice, once in the villages and again in the constituencies where they are usually based. 

“If they’re voting here, they aren’t allowed to vote at their infantries. It needs to be made official that they have indeed moved here. Otherwise, voter lists could be inflated,” she said.

Namtu township and the surrounding Kyaukme district has been rocked by numerous clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups belonging to the Northern Alliance. 

There are about 400,000 eligible voters in Kyaukme, where 28 seats in local and national parliaments, including an Ethnic Affairs Minister position, are up for grabs.

SNLD party members in Muse during a campaign event on September 10 (Myat Moe Thu/Myanmar Now)

Namtu township’s election commission chair, Zaw Min, said that the voter list of each military unit in the township is being checked again according to legal procedures.

The commission was still verifying the 100 or so soldiers who had applied to register in Namtaung, he said. 

Representatives from several political parties in Shan state also said that a number of soldiers from military-backed militias have been included on two separate voter lists.

They were particularly concerned about Muse district in northern Shan, which has the largest number of such militias, they said.

Election officials are supposed to be in charge of collecting names for voter lists, but because conflict in the region makes this dangerous, the Tatmadaw has taken charge of compiling lists for the militia members. 

The SNLD’s General Secretary, Sai Leik, said the party had contacted the UEC about the situation but the commission had not given a clear and detailed response. 

“The voter list needs to be strong and transparent. If not, that’ll affect how just and honest the election outcome will be,” he said.

There are over 300,000 eligible voters in Muse district, where 62 candidates are fighting for 31 seats.

Nhit San Oo, the election commission secretary for northern Shan state, said that although the military helped create the voting lists, the commission would ensure there was no double voting.   

“If they appear twice on the voter lists, the region wouldn’t accept it and the township election commission wouldn’t put it out either. Our main goal is to have correct voter lists,” he said.

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