Rakhine Parties Slam COVID-19 Campaign Restrictions Ahead of Myanmar’s Election
By Min Aung Khine 10 September 2020
Sittwe, Rakhine State — The campaign season for the Nov. 8 election started on Tuesday but COVID-19 restrictions in Rakhine State are preventing political parties from engaging with voters.
The government has issued stay-at-home orders in all the 17 townships in the state, which has seen 652 COVID-19 positive patients since Aug. 16, the second-highest number after Yangon Region. As of Thursday morning, Myanmar has reported 2,009 confirmed cases with 14 deaths. The Union Election Commission (UEC) bars parties from campaigning in coronavirus hotspots where stay-at-home orders are in effect.
A total of 380 candidates – from 18 political parties and independent candidates – are registered to contest the election, according to Rakhine State Election Sub-Commission.
“The restrictions are strict and this means we are not allowed to campaign. We can only operate online but 2G internet stops us from doing anything. We can only set up hoardings,” vice-chairman of the Arakan Front Party U Kyaw Zaw Oo told The Irrawaddy.
General secretary of Arakan League for Democracy U Myo Kyaw said: “What can we do? We can do nothing as they do not allow us to do anything. If there is internet access, we may campaign online. But internet access is cut off in most of the townships in Rakhine State. It is a crisis.”
In June 2019, the government cut off internet access in Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Myebon, Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine and Paletwa Township in Chin State, citing security concerns over the fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA).
Mobile internet services resumed in those townships in early August but residents say they only have a 2G service.
“We understand that we can’t conduct campaigning because stay-at-home orders are in effect in Rakhine State,” said U Tun Aung Kyaw, a steering committee member of the Arakan National Party (ANP).
“But can we campaign at all before the election? We will meet the district election sub-commission and state sub-commission to ask about alternatives,” he added.
Rakhine State Election Sub-Commission secretary U Thurein Htut said the state commission cannot intervene as instructions come directly from the Union-level authorities.
“We told the ANP that if they have any campaign plan, present it to us and we will put it forward to the UEC,” said U Thurein Htut.
National League for Democracy’s Lower House lawmaker Daw Ni Ni May Myint in Taungup, who is seeking re-election, said she hoped the UEC can relax some regulations.
“Following the instructions of the election commission and health ministry, we went out on the campaign trail with three or four campaigners in a car. At around noon, the township commission told us to stop and to follow stay-at-home orders. They said they would inform me if anything changes,” Daw Ni Ni May Myint told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
“As the instructions affect all the parties, I hope the commission will relax them a bit. We can do nothing under these restrictions. It seems we can only campaign on Facebook,” she added.
Meanwhile, armed clashes between government troops and the AA have forced more than 200,000 people from their homes in Rakhine, severely reducing interest in the election.
Ma Moe Moe, a Kyauktan villager who is sheltering at a camp in Rathedaung, told The Irrawaddy: “We don’t know where the voter lists were displayed and where to cast votes. We are struggling to find three meals a day. We cannot farm and we lost all our belongings. We can think of nothing except our survival.”
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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