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World News

Myanmar's trishaws turn campaigners as virus curbs canvassing

YANGON (Reuters) - As surging coronavirus infections make election canvassing difficult in Myanmar, humble trishaw drivers are becoming unlikely champions for a nationwide ballot just a few weeks away.

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Lockdowns have put the brakes on election activities, with parties focusing efforts on social media and trishaw drivers who spread the message on the street, festooning their bicycles and passenger seats with party flags, umbrellas and logos.

“It’s like we are doing an election campaign on their behalf,” said by Zaw Min, a trishaw driver kitted out in the red attire of the incumbent National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

“I hope our activity will be effective for the candidates.”

A handful of the three-wheeled passenger bikes popular in Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon displayed the colours of opposition parties running against the NLD.

Myanmar’s COVID-19 infections have grown rapidly from a few hundred in mid-August to more than 18,781 and 444 deaths as of Monday, when 987 new cases and 32 fatalities were reported.

With authorities piling resources into fighting the virus, there are doubts about the viability of the Nov. 8 poll, which Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week said must go ahead and is “more important than COVID”.

The main challenger to Suu Kyi’s NLD, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, and 23 other opposition parties have called for a postponement.

The legislature’s term ends on Jan. 31, but if no parliamentary election is held before then, a constitutional crisis is a possibility.

With social restrictions increasing, the trishaw’s role in Myanmar goes beyond public transportation.

“It is not an election rally, it is just to show our support,” said driver Zaw Ko, who supports the NLD. “Now the election gets closer even with these virus restrictions, I hope our activities can help our favourite party.”

Additional reporting by Shoon Naing; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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