Shan State-based civil society organizations (CSOs) have said that they are concerned about both the number of polling stations in the state and the crowding in these stations during the general election scheduled for November, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Chairperson of the Shan State Election Commission Htin Kyaw announced on August 18 that there would be 3,676 polling stations across the state, but that this was open to change.
Wint Htal Kaung Myat, who is working with the Shan State Peace Task Force and the Myanmar Institute of Peace and Security Studies, pointed out that because of this, the number of stations remains unconfirmed, and health guidelines associated with social distancing must be observed.
“We still don’t know the space of the polling stations. If people are crowded in the polling stations, it won’t be good,” he told SHAN.
CSOs have urged local election commissions to cooperate with the health ministry to ensure voting is safe.
Locals have further recommended that village headmen and the election commission work together regarding the construction of polling stations to ensure that they are of adequate size.
The concerns come after a series of new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Sittwe, Rakhine State last week.
“The number of COVID-19 cases is rising again. We are worried about it. The recently confirmed cases are locally transmitted,” Wint Htal Kaung Myat said.
Northern Shan State human rights activist Mai Mai said that more polling stations might be necessary in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines put forward by the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS), and that hand sanitizer and face masks should be provided onsite.
“Polling stations will be crowded with people on election day. Therefore, the authorities need to build more polling stations. All of the people must follow the guidelines of the MoHS,” she told SHAN.
But more polling stations will be accompanied by the need for further monitoring capacity, leading to local concerns that the elections may not be free or fair under the circumstances.
“If we have more polling stations and nobody monitors the polling stations, it won’t be good. If there are not enough polling stations, it won’t be good for health guidelines. So there are many challenges,” Lashio resident Nang Hom told SHAN.
Political parties including the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy are urging the MoHS and the Union Election Commission to work together to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on the election campaign and the national vote on November 8.