Wearing a red face mask, face shield and rubber gloves, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi led a subdued but public health-compliant event on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to open campaigning for general elections in November.
Observing social distancing guidelines with other allies wearing the red hues of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi helped raise a flag at the party headquarters in the capital Naypyitaw as music blared in the background.
The 60-day campaign period starts as fears mount over a fresh wave of COVID-19 local transmissions in the country, with 45 new cases on Monday and 100 on Sunday, the highest since the first official infection in March.
On Monday, Sept. 7, Suu Kyi announced she was calling off a planned campaign trip to her constituents in Yangon on the recommendation of the health minister.
“Originally, I planned to travel to Yangon’s Kawhmu constituency this evening,” she said in a video livestream. “But our health minister did not agree [with my plans].”
She also announced that a staff member of her household tested positive for the coronavirus.
Myanmar now has 1,464 cases and is relatively better off than most countries with outbreaks. But limited testing and new cases of local transmission in the conflict-torn Rakhine state have raised fears in a place where the healthcare system has still not recovered from decades of junta neglect.
Myanmar’s Union Election Commission said on Sunday that election gatherings would be limited to 50 people, local news website The Irrawaddy reported.
The report added that some political parties are finding it challenging to get their message out because of all the restrictions. Political party broadcasts are required to be recorded in state television studios, which would require candidates to travel to major cities and be quarantined upon arrival and after returning.
The Nov. 8 election will be a stark contrast to the poll five years ago, when Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide victory in hopes she could steer Myanmar closer to democracy.
Though her international reputation has taken a drubbing over her handling of the Rohingya crisis, she is still broadly popular at home.
Many have also praised her response to the pandemic, with daily messages about public health in state media, Facebook posts, and initiatives like a creative mask contest.
Cover: Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) and President Win Myint (L) wear face shields and masks at a flag-raising ceremony for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to mark the first day of election campaigning in Naypyidaw on Sept. 8, 2020. Photo: AFP / Thet Aung