Myanmar’s military and political parties on Monday condemned intimidation tactics in the run-up to November polls after the weekend discovery of unexploded hand grenades at the home of the top election official in the capital Naypyidaw.
With Myanmar headed to the polls Nov. 8 to elect national and state legislatures, campaigning has been hampered by increasingly tight restrictions aimed at fighting a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.
No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the grenades in Naypyidaw, discovered just days after the Union Election Commission, the national body that oversees voting, ruled out a postponement of the balloting despite an appeal by the main opposition party and a group of small parties, citing rigid pandemic restrictions.
Two hand grenades were discovered Saturday and Sunday at the residential compound of Thein Htwe, chairman of the Naypyidaw Election Subcommission, said spokesmen for the Myanmar Police Force and the army.
Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said a review of security footage by a military technical team indicated that the two grenades were both thrown near Thein Htwe’s residence on Saturday night, although one was not discovered until Sunday afternoon.
Video recordings on the home’s four CCTV cameras indicate that someone threw an object into the compound from the street, where it hit a broom and landed by a tree, Zaw Min Tun said.
“We searched in that area and found a grenade of the same type as the first one,” he said. “As we have seen in the CCTV footage, it was thrown in around 9:48 p.m., the same time the first one was thrown in.”
“We are very close to the election date,” he said. “This could be intimidation. Besides, the perpetrators must have intended to stoke fear and disillusionment among various organizations.”
The military spokesman’s concern was echoed by election observers, journalists, and lawmakers who said they view the incident as a threat to the elections.
Maung Maung Swe, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party who represents Mandalay region, said the incident was meant to cause panic in the run-up to the vote.
“The perpetrators are trying to intimidate the public,” he said.
“It is normal for some groups of people to respond like that when they see results they don’t expect. I want to appeal to the people not to panic if there are rumors and threats before the election,” said Maung Maung Swe.
Nandar Hla Myint, spokesman of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said the incident was particularly worrying because it is unknown which organization or individual threw the hand grenades.
“If the authorities concerned examine the incident and reveal the truth, everything will be in the clear,” he told RFA. “Otherwise, there will be confusion and misconceptions among the parties. It will lead to concerns.”
The USDP, Myanmar’s main opposition party, joined other small parties last week in an appeal to postpone the elections, arguing that size limits on rallies, stay-at-home-orders, and quarantines to fight a resurgence of COVID-19 all played to the advantage of 75-year-old leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling NLD.
Aung Soe Win, assistant director of Naypyidaw Election Subcommission, said the body is not concerned about the incident.
“We will keep performing our duties,” he told RFA. I don’t want to comment on the conclusions reached by many people.”
Journalist Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, noted that no such acts of intimidation occurred before the last general elections in 2015.
“Just last week there was a bloody brawl between USDP campaigners and NLD supporters,” he said. “Now, we have the bomb incident.”
Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the elections watchdog group People’s Alliance for Credible Elections said, “No matter what the cause is, we should not accept violent acts regarding the election.”
About 37.5 million voters in Myanmar’s population of 54 million are eligible to cast ballots in the Nov. 8 elections. Nearly 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties, as well as independents, are vying for 1,171 seats available in both houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.
Reported by Thet Su Aung and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.