IT began at 9am Wednesday with a long strip of trishaws lining up on Shukhinthar Myo Road in Thaketa Township, Yangon. The participants – old, young and even infants – were all sporting the red banners of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), seen by many as the frontrunner for the upcoming November 8 elections in Burma (Myanmar).
People kept on coming until 11am, the crowd swelling and cheering as music poured from amplifiers. Then, probably a thousand strong, the rally began, led by a van from which a man stood up from time to time: the person in question was Naing Ngan Lin, a current MP in Naypyidaw and NLD candidate in Thaketa district. He was joined by two fellow candidates from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
The reason why this rally was special among the many held across the country is its controversial background: the rally would not have taken place had not been for one of the most violent attacks seen during the relatively peaceful electoral campaign.
One week before, on Oct. 29, Naing Ngan Lynn and two other NLD members were attacked by knife-wielding men while campaigning in Thaketa. The police arrested three suspects – Aung Zaw Latt, Tin Aung Khaing Oo and Myo Min Khaing – who are accused of “voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means”. Or, to put it simply, they slashed the NLD campaigners with machetes and severely injured the candidates’ arms.
Naing Ngan Lynn was taken to hospital that night and the first comments to come out of the clinic were not optimistic: he would need to stay four months without using his hands, said the doctors, who also treated an injury to his head.
Yesterday, he had seemingly recovered from his head injuries and made good with his arms: raising his thickly bandaged hands, he greeted the crowd on an hours-long tour of the district.
The rally was first and foremost a statement of political will. After Naing Ngan Lynn’s injury, the NLD campaign in Thaketa seemed seriously handicapped, and his return to the streets was meant to send a clear message: the NLD is still there and more than willing to get local votes.
The assault marked a tense moment in the electoral campaign. Ironically, it also proved a point made by the NLD just the day before, when a party representative had voiced concerns over votes being cancelled and possible violence occurring while campaigning.
Attacks against party members recently also took place in Kachin State, where in mid-October a group of men stormed the NLD dormitory in Chipwi, close to the border with China. According to media reports, they wore headbands with the USDP logo and took to smashing everything they found, threatening to get physically rid of the campaigners if they did not pack up and leave.
No clear reason for the attacks in Thaketa has been provided so far. The police said that the attack was caused by a trivial dispute in front of a shop – and perhaps an excessive dose of alcohol – but speculation that the aggression was politically motivated is running wild in Yangon.