Ban on political gatherings in Melaka acid test for Sarawak polls, Malaysian GE: Analysts

Political gatherings are banned from Oct 25 to Nov 27 during the Melaka state polls. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The ban on political gatherings during the Melaka state election period will be an acid test to the run-up of the Sarawak state polls and coming general election, said political analysts.

Professor Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia described the ban on campaigning, such as meetings and mass rallies, as timely in the light of the lesson learnt from the Sabah state polls last year.

"We have to learn what happened in Sabah where mass gatherings and open campaigns led to a high rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

"I suppose this will be the best practice and also an acid test for the Election Commission (EC) and other security agencies to understand what can be done in the Sarawak polls if it is held and the 15th General Election," he said when contacted on Sunday (Oct 24).

Besides social media, he said political parties would have to find other means of conveying their message to voters owing to the ban.

"Maybe there could be some room for politicians to air their views through the mainstream media," he added.

Prof Sivamurugan suggested that the EC call a briefing with all political parties involved in the polls on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the ban on political gatherings.

"This will also allow all sides to give their views as some political parties may have their own proposals on the matter," he added.

On Sunday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said political gatherings would not be allowed from Monday to Nov 27 during the Melaka state polls.

International Islamic University's Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod said the state polls in Melaka would set a benchmark for the Sarawak polls and the general elections.

"If it is successful in Melaka where there is no apparent trend in the rise in Covid-19 cases, then the EC will be more confident of organising the Sarawak state polls and general election," he said when contacted.

However, he noted that the SOP and ban on political gatherings would be easier to monitor in Melaka compared with much larger areas such as Sarawak or the entire country.

Professor Nik Ahmad agreed with the ban on political gatherings for the Melaka state polls as it would serve as a preventive measure against a possible spike in Covid-19 cases.

"If you look at Sabah, they had SOPs in place and even limited the number of participants at gatherings but it was not followed.

"I think it is best to ban mass gatherings altogether, including ceramah (political rallies)," he said.

He added that the ban would see political parties finding innovative ways of reaching out to voters.

"Although most candidates will rely on social media to campaign, they will still have to rely on traditional means of campaigning, such as flyers and posters, especially in rural areas where the older voters do not use social media."

National Council of Professors senior fellow Jeniri Amir said the new campaigning methods practised at the Melaka elections would be a sign of things to come in future elections.

He does not think any party should feel at a disadvantage when an election is held without allowing physical campaigns.

"Both sides will not be allowed to campaign physically, so both will have to figure out their own way to reach voters.

"You have the conventional way of using print media, apart from also using social media. These are strategies that the political parties will have to figure out themselves," said Professor Jeniri.

But opposition leader and ex-defence minister Mohamad Sabu asked for the logic of banning political rallies when malls are packed in Melaka.

"Melaka is under Phase Four of the National Recovery Plan. Restaurants are packed, malls are full, there are wedding ceremonies and classes are allowed to resume.

"Malaysia has become one of the strangest countries in the world where the law can be changed according to the whims and fancies of those in power," he asked in Parliament, as reported by Malay Mail online news.

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