Suu Kyi under pressure to delay vote as Myanmar's coronavirus cases rise

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the outbreak can be contained with strict social distancing curbs.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the outbreak can be contained with strict social distancing curbs.PHOTO: REUTERS

NAYPYITAW (BLOOMBERG) - Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under pressure to delay November general elections as a resurgence in coronavirus cases has resulted in a strict lockdown across parts of the nation.

Opposition parties led by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party wrote to the Union Election Commission this week to demand the Nov 8 poll be postponed because of a jump in infections.

The opposition is concerned that campaign rallies and other activities may fuel more cases and many eligible voters may not be able to cast their ballots.

"We have witnessed that supporters of respective parties unconsciously fail to follow social distancing measures and standard operating procedures in election campaigns," some two dozen opposition parties said in the letter.

"We foresee unexpected mass gatherings due to supporters' enthusiasm."

The ruling National League for Democracy still favours going to vote on schedule, with Ms Suu Kyi saying the outbreak can be contained with strict social distancing curbs.

A second wave of virus infections hit the nation of 54 million people last month, forcing authorities to bring back stay-at-home orders in commercial hub Yangon and Rakhine State and ban domestic travel nationwide.

While the country managed to keep total infections to just about 400 until the middle of August, a sharp jump since then has resulted in 4,299 infections and 61 deaths as of Friday (Sept 18), official data shows.

The ruling NLD, seen as the front runner, has said a delay in holding the vote can lead to political instability as the constitution doesn't permit a delay of more than two months.

The latest outbreak can be controlled in the next few weeks to allow for voting in November, said Mr Myo Nyunt, a member of the party's central executive committee.

"Myanmar has tightened the rules and imposed partial lockdown on the townships where the virus was detected the most," Mr Myo Nyunt said.

"This will result in containment of the virus spread in the next few weeks."

While the country's second wave of infections is worse-than-expected, authorities are better prepared in terms of health infrastructure and resources to contain the pandemic, according to Mr Than Naing Soe, spokesman of the Ministry of Health and Sports.

 
 
 

ECONOMIC HIT

The near-shutdown of Myanmar's Yangon region and Rakhine state, as well as lower election spending amid social distancing measures, threatens the impoverished country's forecast for economic recovery next year.

The resurgence in cases "spells more trouble for the Myanmar economy over the coming months with economic weakness likely to persist into 2021", Fitch Solutions said in a report this week.

Lower spending on election campaigning, due to a lack of sponsorship funds or a shift in activities online, will also result in less revenue for domestic businesses, Fitch Solutions said, adding it sees increasing downside risks to its forecast of 5 per cent growth next year.

Myanmar's economy is now likely to grow at 2 per cent this year despite the hit to businesses and tourism from the pandemic.