YANGON—Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) said it is important to go ahead with the general election as planned, as any delay would lead to political chaos in the country.
Myanmar has set its general election for Nov. 8.
While that is seven weeks away, the country is now in the grip of a COVID-19 resurgence with nearly 300 positive cases reported per day. The death toll is on the rise.
NLD spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that delaying the vote would mean postponing it to an uncertain future.
“Like a second wave, there may also be a third wave. As everyone knows, the government is trying its best to contain COVID-19,” Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We believe it is better to hold the election as planned when the situation is still not out of control.”
Some parties have called for postponing the election, noting that restrictions on public gatherings and door-to-door campaigning are severely limiting political activity.
“Postponing the election when it’s uncertain how the situation might develop in the future will simply result in more problems, including a political crisis on top of the current public health and economic problems,” Dr. Myo Nyunt added.
Amid an upsurge of COVID-19 cases in the country, the former ruling, and military proxy, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and 23 other parties—most of which are pro-military and didn’t win any seats in the 2015 election—on Tuesday sent an open letter to the Union Election Commission (UEC) seeking to delay the polls. Myanmar has 93 political parties competing in the election.
Since Aug. 16, Myanmar has seen a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases daily.
In that period of about one-and-a-half months, the number of cases has jumped from 374 to 4,299, including 61 deaths.
The parties sending the open letter to the UEC are among 34 that sought assurance on Aug. 14—before the resurgence in COVID-19 cases—from the military chief that action would be taken if they deem the result to be unfair.
Those parties cited concerns over public health and difficulties in campaigning under the COVID-19-related restrictions in their request to the commission for postponement of the election.
USDP chairman U Than Htay said in a video message uploaded on his Facebook page Wednesday that while combating COVID-19 is the most important priority for the country, winning the election is also a must. He said the USDP would conduct election campaigns continuously in order to secure a victory.
The NLD is not alone in expressing reservations about election postponement. Major ethnic political parties have also shared their concerns over the uncertainty that would result from delaying the election.
“In considering whether to postpone or not, what if the situation became worse than it is now?… COVID-19 will be with us until a vaccine is found,” Daw Dwe Bu of the Kachin State People’s Party said.
“The current Parliament’s term will end on Jan. 31. If the election doesn’t take place on time, I am concerned there will be chaos,” she added.
Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) lawmaker U Sai Tun Aye said he thinks the UEC will continue on its current course because the country is in control of the pandemic when compared to other countries.
With stay-at-home orders and COVID-19 restrictions in place, parties have focused on online campaigning in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases. The UEC and the Ministry of Health and Sports have released guidelines that ban campaigning in COVID-19 hotspots. The guidelines also set a maximum of 50 people for gatherings, require social distancing and spell out other preventative measures.
The two major parties—the NLD and USDP, both of which field candidates across the country—have recently said they will avoid mass election gatherings.
In contrast to the public complaints by the USDP and its allied parties, NLD supporters have shown their eagerness to vote in the poll, campaigning for the party using funds from their own pockets, buying and distributing the party’s logo stickers, flags and masks since the campaign period began on Sept. 8. Their enthusiasm prompted party chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to request they avoid gathering in crowds to show their support for the party at the current time.
“Please show your support in line with COVID-19 rules. Don’t show support by gathering in crowds,” she urged party supporters on Tuesday through her Facebook page, while adding that going to polling stations and casting ballots on Nov. 8 is the most important action to take.
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