COVID-19 Restrictions Create Difficulties for Election Campaigns, Ethnic Parties Say

Monday, September 14, 2020

Restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult to launch election campaigns in Burma, representatives of ethnic political parties said.

On September 6, the Union Election Commission announced the start of a 60-day campaign period and campaigning guidelines, which state that parties much follow “standard operating procedures” to control the spread of COVID-19.

“According to the statement, we cannot launch election campaigns in townships which have imposed a ‘stay at home’ order,” Naw Ohn Hla, who is contesting for a Karen affairs ministerial post in Yangon and is general secretary of the United Nationalities Democratic Party, told NMG.

She noted that more than half of Yangon Region’s 45 townships were off-limits under this protocol.

“It is difficult for us to work to win the election, because 28 townships [in Yangon] are locked down. We cannot go there and campaign,” she said.

Mann Aung Pyi Soe, the chairperson of the Karen National Democratic Party, said that the current conditions for campaigning affect smaller parties’ abilities to win.

“If a political party does not launch an election campaign, people won’t know about the party. It will impact their strategy to win. If we cannot negotiate around this, our election campaign won’t be effective,” he said.

General secretary of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy Sai Lek said that the impact on campaigning also will affect voter turnout.

“If we cannot deliver our party’s message to people and if we cannot launch an election campaign, people will not be actively interested in voting in the election,” he explained. “This will mean people will be less interested in the 2020 general election. It will also impact eligible votes.”

Khu Thae Reh, secretary of the Kayah State Democratic Party, said he is concerned about the health risks of campaigning during a pandemic.

“I am worried that we could be spreading disease when we launch our election campaign,” he said. “We have to follow the health guidelines imposed by the Ministry of Health and Sports. We don’t have enough protective equipment.”

He said that people have become more wary of outsiders because of fears that they could be carrying COVID-19.

“People in some villages do not welcome visitors. People are so worried about the spread of the virus,” Khu Thae Reh told NMG.

When she met with the Yangon Region Election Commission, Naw Ohn Hla said that her party recommended that they postpone the election.

“An election is essential for the future of the country. But health is more important for the country than an election,” she said. “Fifty people are allowed to gather for an election campaign event. Then these 50 people will go everywhere. From a health perspective, it may cause the spread of the virus. That’s why we are demanding that the election be postponed.”

Ethnic politicians have also expressed concerns that the 2020 general election won’t meet the basic standards of being free and fair, given the current conditions.