Election fever is palpable on the crumbling streets of Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and colonial-era capital. Caravans of National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters tour the streets daily on rickshaws and converted pickup trucks, festooned with the party’s iconic red bunting and fighting peacock motif. Posters are flourished of the NLD’s talismanic leader, and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet a deep anxiety undercuts the electoral exuberance in this impoverished Southeast Asian nation, which is officially now known as Myanmar. It is poised to escape a half-century of military dictatorship, but many fear the rug will be pulled from under at any moment — illustrated by the fatalistic reaction to Tuesday’s announcement by the Union Election Commission (UEC) that the long-awaited polls may be postponed because of widespread flooding and landslides.
This possibility, ventured following a meeting between the UEC and 10 political parties, hung in the air for just a matter of hours before a statement from the Ministry of Information insisted the vote would proceed on Nov. 8 as planned. “The UEC reviewed the opinions put forth by a number of political parties and has decided to go ahead with the election on Nov. 8,” read the statement. “There will be no delay.”
While postponement was apparently backed by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), as well as several smaller parties, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told TIME there was “no good reason” for any deferral. “We are ready to fight for the election and the flooding and landsides are a very small matter when compared with the whole country,” he said.
According to Burma’s election rules, the UEC is allowed to delay the polls in the event of natural disasters. But while the flooding was undoubtedly severe — displacing 1.6 million people, claiming 100 lives and destroying 840,000 acres of farmland across almost half the country — the waters have largely receded and rebuilding efforts are well under way. Some voters did complain that identity papers were destroyed in the deluge, though these are not strictly necessary for voting, as informal identification — simply being recognized by township officials — has been deemed permissible for those already named on voter lists. Improvised polling stations are also easy to rig up in provinces where permanent structures have been destroyed.