Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Cancels First Campaign Trip as Health Minister Intervenes Over COVID-19 Concerns
By San Yamin Aung 7 September 2020
YANGON—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counselor and chairperson of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), on Monday canceled her first campaign visit to her parliamentary constituency in Yangon’s Kawhmu Township scheduled for Tuesday, as the country’s health minister vetoed the trip after a house attendant and another man at her Yangon residence tested positive for COVID-19.
Tuesday is the first day of the official campaign period ahead of November’s general election.
A man who watches over Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence in Yangon and another from Kawhmu Township who has regular access to the residence’s compound have tested positive for COVID-19.
The State Counselor said Monday she canceled the visit on the advice of the health minister.
“Originally, I planned to travel to Yangon’s Kawhmu constituency this evening. I also planned to carry out some executive work in Seikgyikanaungto Township. But our health minister did not agree [with my plans] to travel,” she said during a livestreamed videoconference to discuss COVID-19 control measures in Yangon.
“At this time, the most powerful authority in our country is the Ministry of Health. We need to strictly follow the directives of the ministry,” she added.
During the online conference she said she felt guilty that a person at her residence had tested positive, and requested that Yangon residents continue to observe COVID-19 preventive measures to limit infections.
The 60-day election campaign period officially begins at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and ends at 12 p.m. on Nov. 6, according to the Union Election Commission (UEC).
With the campaign period getting under way, the Ministry of Health announced on Sunday that election campaign gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 50 people, who are required to practice social distancing and other preventive measures.
Conditions on the ground are expected to pose a challenge to political parties as they look to begin campaigning, with COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place in virus hotspots around the country.
Illustrating the difficulties some parties are facing in getting their messages out, U Sai Leik of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) told The Irrawaddy on Monday the party was finding it hard to access state-owned radio and television stations to record election broadcasts, as this would require traveling to Yangon or Naypyitaw, meaning a party official would have to undergo 21 days of quarantine in the capital and another 14 days upon returning home.
The party asked that the rule requiring that such broadcasts be recorded at state-owned stations be changed so that it could submit a recorded video introducing the party’s policies and election promises, but the request was denied.
The party’s candidates are also finding it hard to campaign while adhering to the Health Ministry’s travel restrictions, especially in places where stay-at-home orders or quarantines are in effect.
“For now, we will try to distribute party stickers in some places and introduce candidates’ profiles online,” he said, adding that the party is placing a greater emphasis on online campaigning.
The cancellation of the State Counselor’s visit to Kawhmu has also forced the ruling NLD to alter its original plan to kick off its election campaign in the township with a party flag-hoisting ceremony attended by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Instead, the party will hold the event at its headquarters in Naypyitaw on Tuesday.
Through the NLD chairperson’s social media page, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also called on the public to display NLD party flags at their homes or on their vehicles from Tuesday.
On the eve of the start of the official campaign period, NLD party flags were nearly sold out at Yangon’s fabric printing shops, as supporters bought them to display.
Meanwhile, the People’s Party formed by 88 Generation Students group leaders based in Yangon said it would launch its pre-election activities by hitting the campaign trail in Kamayut Township on Tuesday morning.
The UEC on Monday released a list of preventive guidelines for political parties and candidates to follow during campaigning. It also stated that election support committees, including health officials and medics, had been formed across the country at the central, state/regional, district and township levels to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pre-election period, on election day and in the post-election period.
Myanmar will hold a general election on Nov. 8. According to the election commission’s preliminary voter lists, over 37 million people are eligible to vote in the poll.
A total of 6,969 candidates representing 92 parties and including nearly 300 independent candidates are contesting the election.
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