Ethnic Political Parties Say COVID-19 Restrictions Disproportionately Affect Their Campaigns

By NETWORK MEDIA GROUP (NMG)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ethnic political parties in Kachin State have reported difficulties in launching campaigns ahead of the general election on November 8 due to restrictions meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) has banned gatherings of more than 50 people amid the pandemic, and the Union Election Commission (UEC) has ordered all political parties and electoral candidates to follow national health guidelines and local orders during their campaigns.

“We cannot demonstrate our strength with our supporters, but some big parties do not follow the health guidelines and are moving around the town with many supporters,” Sai Htay Aung, chairperson of the Tai-leng (Shanni) National Development Party (TNDP) told NMG.

He accused the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) of not applying with local election commissions before campaigning, yet still making themselves seen with supporters.

“I don’t think it’s fair for other political parties,” the TNDP chair added.

Sai Htay Aung said that the TNDP has launched a door-to-door campaign in both Kachin State and Sagaing Region to share the party’s platform with voters, and provide education about how to vote in the upcoming general election.

Nawng Lat, a Kachin National Congress (KNC) candidate in Hpakant Township, said that COVID-19 has posed a range of problems for his party, and for smaller parties in general.

“We have had financial problems during the lockdown period. We cannot travel during the COVID-19 period. People are afraid to attend our election campaign events because they are afraid of getting infected with COVID-19,” Nawng Lat told NMG. “Big parties have already launched their election campaigns here. State-based political parties have many difficulties.”

He said that the MoHS, UEC and local and state government authorities had “released different statements,” creating “confusion” for parties in particular on how to campaign.

“Even though some of the big parties have difficulties, their problems are much fewer than state-based political parties,” the KNC candidate said. “Some big parties have already done their election campaigns in Hpakant. I don’t want to name those parties… State-based political parties have more challenges than those big parties. We have not been able to launch our election campaign with our supporters.”

Naw Khom, who is in charge of the youth department of the Kachin State People’s Party, described a double standard between ethnic parties and larger national parties.

“We are following guidelines. The current government imposed a law related to COVID-19 but their party didn’t follow it when they launched their election campaign,” he told NMG. “Thousands of their supporters moved around the town. We didn’t make any complaint about it but we have recorded it.”

According to the Kachin State Election Commission, 17 political parties will contest the election in Kachin State next month. Among them, 10 are state-based ethnic political parties.

The state’s election commission also reported a total of nearly 1.1 million eligible voters in Kachin State.