Myanmar opposition party seeks polls delay due to COVID-19

September 15, 2020 GMT

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s main opposition party, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, has joined 23 other political parties in asking the state Union Election Commission to consider rescheduling the Nov. 8 general election due to an upsurge of coronavirus cases.

The ruling National League for Democracy party of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leader, has so far declined to call for postponing the vote for national and state legislatures.

The parties calling for a postponement on Tuesday have said that because a high number of infected people are believed to not show symptoms of the disease, even adhering to health regulations would not allow safe campaigning in situations such as rallies. Some parties have suggested Dec. 27 as a new date for the polls. Several are generally aligned with the ruling NLD.

A coronavirus outbreak that began in August in the western state of Rakhine has spread to other parts of the country, rapidly driving up the number of confirmed cases. The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 307 more cases, bringing the total to 3,502. The death toll rose by three to 35. Partial lockdowns have been imposed in Rakhine and Yangon. Domestic flights have been stopped and there is a ban on leaving Yangon, the country’s largest city.

“We have no plan to ask the UEC to delay the election since we think we are in control of COVID-19 in the country at the moment,” said Dr. Myo Nyunt, an NLD central executive committee member and spokesman for its election campaign team. “Delaying the election by one and a half months won’t make the situation better. That’s why we believe we should hold the election if things are not getting worse.”

He added, however, that if the election commission or the Health Ministry sought a postponement, his party would honor the decision.

Voters will choose from almost 7,000 candidates from 94 political parties for seats in the upper and lower houses of the national parliament as well as state and region parliaments.

Campaigning for the election officially began last week but even Suu Kyi’s plans were affected by the outbreak. She held a modest flag-raising ceremony at a local party office in the capital, Naypyitaw, after being advised by the country’s health minister not to travel to Yangon, where she had been scheduled to kick off her party’s campaign at its national headquarters.