Myanmar shadow government online lottery sells out in about an hour


Through The Irrawaddy August 16, 2021

An online lottery set up by Myanmar’s shadow government has been so well received that all tickets put up for sale were sold out in just over an hour on launch day despite the regime’s official threats to punish anyone who plays.

Intended to raise funds for civil servants on strike to protest against the regime, the “Victory Spring” lottery, named after Myanmar’s people’s revolution against the junta that began in February, was set up on Sunday by the government of National Unity (NUG).

Many government workers – at least hundreds, if not thousands – quit their jobs following the February coup in protest against military rule. The junta retaliated against them by imprisoning or dismissing them, or issuing arrest warrants for them, prompting many of them to go into hiding.

Their civil disobedience movement (CDM) proved so impactful that the regime still struggles to run the country properly. The NUG said 70% of lottery proceeds would go to supporting strikers, while the rest would be kept by winners. The NUG was formed by lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government and other ethnic representatives in April and has enjoyed popular support at home and abroad.

This move – the sale of lottery tickets by a shadow government to raise funds – is unprecedented in Myanmar’s history. So is the public support it garnered.

The 50,000 lottery tickets were sold online just over an hour after their launch on Sunday, earning NUG 100 million kyats (about $60,760).

“Thank you very much for the enthusiastic support. We ask that you be patient as there are many people who want to play the lottery,” the organizers said on the lottery’s Facebook page, appeasing people who have not had the chance to buy a ticket.

The lottery comes as the regime’s national lottery was nearly destroyed after the coup. Before the coup, he was hugely popular for his lucrative first prize of 1.5 billion kyats. However, it was reduced to a third of that amount in March as the public boycotts payments of any kind to the government, including paying taxes and buying government lottery tickets.

For most people who play the NUG lottery, gambling is the last thing on their mind. Instead, they see it as a way to provide as much financial support as possible to the government they believe in. In other words, it means helping to overthrow the regime.

“I’m just contributing what I can. Whether I win or not doesn’t interest me,” a supporter in Yangon said on condition of anonymity.

He had good reason to remain anonymous; in the days leading up to the launch of the lottery, the regime issued threats, via state newspapers, of legal action against anyone who participated.

In an interview, U Nyi Nyi Hlaing, a director of the Aung Balay National Lottery, called the NUG lottery “illegal” and said anyone involved – operators and players alike – could be punished.

“As payment is made online, the Central Bank would take serious action against those involved in financial transactions,” he said, referring to the country’s nascent digital payment system.

Unsurprisingly, his warnings fell on deaf ears.

On Monday, the second day, the NUG had to abruptly halt ticket sales as the system was overwhelmed, asking people to hold back their generosity for a while as it had to process over 70,000 tickets sold that afternoon.

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