Suu Kyi kicks off Myanmar’s advance voting

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (center), wearing protective gear amid the COVID-19 pandemic, walks out after a visit to examine safety protocols for voting at an election commission district office in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on Tuesday, ahead of November's election. (Photo: AFP)

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi cast her ballot Thursday ahead of Election Day next week with hundreds of thousands of elderly voters across the country expected to follow suit to reduce the risk of coronavirus.

Wearing a face mask, rubber gloves and her trademark flowers in her hair, Suu Kyi was one of the first in the country to vote Thursday morning in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

The 75-year-old's National League for Democracy (NLD) is widely expected to be returned to power in the November 8 polls - only the second election since the nation emerged from outright military rule.

Thousands of polling stations across Yangon and other areas badly hit by the pandemic opened in advance on Thursday to allow voters over 60 to cast their ballots in a bid to protect them from coronavirus.

Kyaw Goke, 73, turned out to vote for only the second time in his life, clad in face mask and shield at a downtown booth with chairs laid out to follow strict physical distancing rules.

"Even if I'm afraid of COVID[-19], I believe voting is necessary," he told AFP.

"I hope Mother Suu wins. She's been the one protecting us from COVID-19," Goke noted.

Suu Kyi has placed herself front and center of the nation's efforts to combat the pandemic, giving near daily addresses to implore citizens to follow lockdown measures.

Experts say her decision to ignore calls for the vote to be postponed is a gamble.

Her visibility has given the NLD an advantage, but watchdog International Crisis Group said turnout will likely be affected and there could be "serious public health ramifications."