KUALA LUMPUR – The strict standard operating procedures (SOP) which await political parties contesting in the Melaka state election will lead to different campaign methods being adopted, and at the same time boost the use of all media platforms.
Although the Election Commission (EC) has yet to issue the full list of SOPs, the recent announcement by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on the ban of election-related gatherings or social activities has triggered dissatisfaction among political parties who want their views to be taken into consideration.
They feel the traditional way of campaigning is the ultimate way to gain the people’s support and without it, the usual lively scenario that comes with an election will instead be subdued as they would not be able to meet voters through house visits, talks or walkabout events.
However, the restriction does not mean that political parties cannot introduce their candidates and deliver their campaign messages to the voters.
That approach is still possible and the EC needs to quickly announce the full SOPs so that political parties can make preparations to adapt to the new norms of campaigning.
Among the alternatives available to replace the traditional campaign method are through electronic and print media, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Telegram and other applications that allow supporters and candidates to interact virtually with voters.
As such, the Melaka state election will definitely boost the use of mass and social media to approach the 495,196 constituents who will cast their votes on Nov 20.
Ahead of the Melaka polls, the EC will definitely not compromise when it comes to SOPs as it is most likely to be drawn by taking into account the lessons from the Sabah state election last year which saw a spike in COVID-19 cases.
If the Melaka state election is successful in curbing COVID-19 transmission, the campaign methods based on the latest SOP could also be used in future elections, whether they are by-elections, the Sarawak state election or the 15th General Election.
Political parties may think the SOP is an attempt to prevent them from campaigning as it was drafted without getting their input but the fact remains that it was finalised without interference from any quarters, which proves that the EC is independent in making decisions.
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Human Ecology Faculty lecturer Profesor Madya Dr Mohd Izani Mohd Zain said physical campaigning was not necessary or could be reduced as political parties and candidates could use the social media platform to do so during this COVID-19 pandemic period.
“For voters, I feel there is no problem and they can still follow the stipulated SOP. What is worrying though is non-compliance with the SOP during the campaign period. This could lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases,” he said, adding that the EC should study the presence of supporters during the nomination day as this could result in large gatherings.
Mohd Izani said postal voting could be done for localities under the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) to enable voters in the area to fulfill their responsibilities.
“The right to vote is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and if it is denied, people will dispute it. Maybe the EC can think of the best way for them (voters) to carry out their responsibilities and at the same time, the focus should be given to SOP compliance,” he said.
Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies senior lecturer at Raub Campus, Pahang Dr Che Hamdan Che Mohd Razali said although campaign methods can be difficult to control, all parties should pay serious attention to it.
“We need full cooperation from political parties to discipline their election machinery to avoid (COVID-19) transmission. Door-to-door campaigning, as well as gatherings, should be avoided and the authorities need to conduct effective monitoring for SOP compliance.
“The presence of supporters and candidate’s representatives should be limited. The (party) leadership should curtail the enthusiasm of its supporters as well as activists so as not to bring harm to the people,” he said.