PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With election fever building up in Melaka, Malaysia's Health Ministry has issued a ban on political gatherings in the state from Monday (Oct 25) to Nov 27 over Covid-19 concerns.
The decision, however, was slammed by both Umno and opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), which decried it as unfair and will deprive them from reaching out to voters on a personal level.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Sunday that while there will be standard operating procedures (SOP) for the state election, it will only take effect during the campaigning period from Nov 8.
Nomination day for the Melaka election will be on Nov 8, with polling day set for Nov 20.
The ministry is concerned there will be plenty of mass gatherings before that.
"As Melaka is in phase four (of the National Recovery Plan), social gatherings are allowed according to the National Security Council's SOPs . However, as can be seen by recent gatherings, political parties (including mine) cannot observe SOPs," said Mr Khairy, who is a member of Umno.
"In the interest of public health, all political gatherings will now not be allowed in Melaka."
Mr Khairy said the ban on political gatherings will also include party election machinery launch events.
He said the ministry's decision is necessary as the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks is still high.
"With the announcement of the Melaka state election, the ministry expects many social events related to the election will be held and will involve mass gatherings of individuals.
"As the risk of transmission of Covid-19 remains high, especially with the transmission of the Delta variant in the community and the growing number of new cases reported, these political activities will only further increase the likelihood of more infection outbreaks," said Mr Khairy.
The ban will be made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), which states that there should not be any mass gatherings of people under any phase of the National Recovery Plan.
Mr Khairy said any individual, organiser or organisation can be subject to fines or prosecution in court if they are found guilty of committing offences under Act 342.
His statement came in light of viral videos and photos of political gatherings related to the Melaka election.
The elections were called after the state assembly was dissolved on Oct 5, following the collapse of the Umno-led state government. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi have both expressed their concerns about holding the polls amid the pandemic, which has just shown signs of easing in the country.
Malaysia recorded 5,666 new cases on Sunday, a slight dip from Saturday's 5,828 cases.
The last statewide elections in Malaysia took place in Sabah in September last year, and caused a surge of Covid-19 cases that never really abated, undoing the country's early success in containing the virus.
Reacting to the ban, Melaka Umno deputy chief Mohamad Ali Mohamad said yesterday the move is not democratic.
"If the government can permit schools and shopping malls to open, and can even allow people to go for recreational activities, why are political parties being banned from campaigning?" he told news site Free Malaysia Today.
The Democratic Action Party's (DAP) election director Khoo Poay Tiong said the ban will put PH at a disadvantage and, as a result, PH will focus its campaign online.