Military supporters gathering for a pro-junta rally in the junta’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw on Monday morning were targeted in a bombing, according to the leader of the local People’s Defence Force (PDF) chapter, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
An estimated six people sustained injuries and two vehicles were damaged, local sources told Myanmar Now.
Two explosives went off at around 7am near the entrance to Lewe Township. There, junta supporters including members of the military-proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) met with at least 10 trucks to drive to the rally together, an eyewitness told Myanmar Now.
The event was held near Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, some 22km from where the explosion occurred.
“We felt the ground quake. Everyone grew terrified. Soldiers and police became flustered and some ran… A maximum of six must have been injured,” the witness said, adding that he heard someone shouting to drive to the nearest hospital.
Another Lewe local confirmed the loud explosion on Monday morning but Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the number of people injured or the damage caused by the blast.
The anti-junta Naypyitaw PDF, which operates under the command of the shadow National Unity Government, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Ngwe Soe, the resistance force’s leader, said that the PDF had collaborated with another local guerrilla group, but that they asked not to be named.
“We got information about the pro-military rally in advance and set up two remote-controlled bombs. We set them off when people were gathering for the rally,” Ngwe Soe said.
Naypyitaw is the administrative capital of military-ruled Myanmar as well as where the headquarters of the military council headed by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is based.
The pro-junta rally under the theme “Supporting the peace process and denouncing foreign interference” was held with some 400 people for one hour beginning at 8am despite the earlier explosions, according to a source who was in attendance. A number of USDP senior members led the rally, he said, including party spokespersons Thein Tun Oo and Yin Min Myint Swe as well as infamous former central committee member and MP Hla Swe.
Armed soldiers were seen guarding the rally in video records of the event.
Both the PDF’s Ngwe Soe and a spokesperson from the allied guerrilla group warned junta supporters against similar incidents in the future, as the groups claimed to be monitoring the situation in the capital to carry out further attacks despite strict security measures taken by the military.
“Those who continue to support the military and Min Aung Hlaing, which are terrorising the public in despicable ways, will have the same consequences,” said the spokesperson of the guerrilla group.
Analysis: Min Aung Hlaing will maintain the status quo that serves him
With his term as junta chief set to expire, Min Aung Hlaing will cling to power with or without army-controlled elections or the military’s 2008 Constitution
The junta chief said that the country was still not ready to hold a general election with an “accurate” voter list and “free” polls, since nearly half of the more than 300 townships in Myanmar lack security and stability.
“We need to hold a general election in all states and regions simultaneously and we can’t do it in one place after another,” Min Aung Hlaing said. “It is not enough to [hold it] only in urban areas,” he added.
He also emphasised that Myanmar’s electoral system needed to be changed to one of Proportional Representation, which would make it easier for less popular junta-aligned parties to win seats. Myanmar’s elections currently operate under a First Past the Post system, meaning that the candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency becomes an MP, while all the votes that went to the losing candidates are effectively thrown out.
He added that the country’s political parties will also need to be changed in line with the electoral system switch, hinting that the parties might need to merge in order to better represent the people.
Days before the NDSC meeting, the regime amended the Political Parties Registration Law, aiming to outlaw the NLD. In Wednesday’s state-run newspapers, the junta’s electoral commission also released by-laws of the Political Parties Registration Law and called on interested parties to start proceeding with their registration.
Also addressed by the military chief at the meeting was the need for the collection of the country’s updated population data. He noted that Myanmar’s last census was carried out in 2014 and that it should be conducted every 10 years. Min Aung Hlaing stressed that an updated census would be critical to obtaining an accurate voter list ahead of an election. However, the military chief did not provide a timeline for the polls.
“Our government will try our best to be able to hold an election in a number of constituencies not less than in the previous 2020 election, and also under peaceful conditions—not [those that are] worse [than in 2020],” Min Aung Hlaing said, referring to his junta.
The 11-member NDSC body is prescribed by the military-drafted Constitution to include the president, two vice-presidents, two house speakers, commander-in-chief and his deputy, and the ministers of foreign affairs, defence, home affairs, and border affairs.
Not all members were present at Tuesday’s meeting. In attendance was the regime’s acting president Myint Swe, Lower House speaker T Khun Myat, deputy commander-in-chief Soe Win, defence minister Gen Mya Tun Oo, home affairs minister Lt-Gen Soe Htut, foreign affairs minister Wunna Maung Lwin, and border affairs minister Lt-Gen Tun Tun Naung.
Also participating were regime officials who were selectively invited, such as military council secretary Lt-Gen Aung Lin Dwe along with his joint secretary Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo, and attorney-general Thida Oo.
T Khun Myat suggested that the council body seek recommendations from the constitutional tribunal regarding whether the new extension was in line with the 2008 charter. According to the broadcast, the tribunal had considered the move and told the regime’s vice-president that the extension was in line with the constitution. Myint Swe, who leads the NDSC, then announced the extension of the country’s state of emergency for a further six months.
Although the NDSC council holds some executive powers of the state, its structure gave military-controlled members majority representation even when Myanmar was under a civilian government.
In response to the regime’s extension of military rule, Aung Kyi Nyunt, who is a central executive member of the ousted NLD party, said that the move was “lawless.”
“The state of emergency will only be over when they are no longer [in power],” he told Myanmar Now over the phone on Wednesday, referring to the military. “They perpetrated this emergency state of affairs. Even if they extend [the junta’s rule], it is lawless.”
According to the 2008 Constitution, only the president can hand over the state’s sovereign power to the commander-in-chief under “a state of emergency.”
Though the military arrested and charged the NLD’s President Win Myint when it staged the coup two years ago, it did not depose vice presidents Henry Van Thio and Myint Swe; the latter is currently serving as the regime’s acting president. However, Van Thio has not been in the public eye since the army’s seizure of power.
While both remain NDSC members, Van Thio did not attend the Tuesday meeting for health reasons, according to the regime. Myanmar Now’s sources in Naypyitaw said he was hospitalised on Tuesday with head and neck injuries.
Tuesday marked his third absence from such meetings since the coup. He did not attend previous NDSC gatherings on January 31 and July 31 last year, when the council extended the junta’s rule. On both occasions, Van Thio’s health was cited as the reason for his nonattendance.
On the second anniversary of the country’s military coup, residents in cities and towns in Myanmar protested junta rule with a “silent strike” by avoiding public activities. Myanmar nationals in neighbouring countries such as Thailand held rallies and called for an end of the military’s power grab, which they condemned as “illegal.”
One night earlier, the US, Australia, and allied Western governments announced an expansion of sanctions against the junta, the regime’s energy officials and its network of suppliers and cronies.