The 20 November Malacca state election will not only be an electoral test on the contesting parties that have gone through political turmoil in recent times but also a measure to what extent the polls are allowed to be held on a level playing field.
The Malacca polls should see to it that winners win fairly and freely, while some of the voters in the state should not lose their loved ones owing to a possible spike in Covid infections.
There should be no repeat of the Sabah state elections on 26 September last year, after which infections surged because the epidemic standard operating procedures were not strictly observed.
The Malacca election is as much about politics as it is about people’s lives and livelihoods.
With this backdrop, we are supposed to appreciate Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s banning of all physical gatherings and social events associated with the elections from 25 October to 27 November.
Khairy has said the action taken was in line with restrictions under the latest national recovery plan standard operating procedures for states in phase 4.
The restrictions relate to “any activities that can cause many people to be present in one location and pose difficulties for physical distancing and compliance to orders from the health director-general”.
Individuals, organisers or the organisations that breach this provision may face legal action, including a compound or prosecution, if found guilty under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.
That is why any complaints of breach of the procedures and double standards in its enforcement must be attended to by the authorities.
For instance, Malaysian United Democratic Alliance president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has complained of double standards after his party was fined RM4,000 for holding a press conference in Malacca, which allegedly broke a state-wide ban on election-related gatherings.
He said there were only five people attending the 10-minute press conference, which was held in an open-air area while maintaining physical distancing.
And yet, the Ministry of Health fined Barisan Nasional a mere RM10,000 for having held a programme in Kuala Lumpur to launch its election machinery for the Malacca election.
The event, alleged Syed Saddiq, was attended by a few hundred people in “closed halls, without mask nor social distancing”.
PKR was reported to have been fined RM10,000 for allegedly holding a no-crowd ceramah in Paya Rumput, Malacca.
Prompted by the concern about double standards in law enforcement, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang has urged the Ministry of Health to take action against two former prime ministers – Najib Razak and Mahiaddin Yasin – for reportedly having violated health regulations by attending gatherings in the state recently.
Lim pointed out that the two veteran politicians should not be allowed to attend “disguised” activities that masked their electoral campaigning.
Najib was seen visiting various spots in Malacca, such as Kampung Tengah and posing with tourists at Queen Victoria’s fountain.
Mahiaddin visited two Perikatan Nasional-initiated Gerai Prihatin Rakyat, a type of stall that was swiftly set up to sell staple goods at very low prices, which attracted ordinary people.
Those who crossed the line not only violated the standard operating procedures but also gained unfair advantage over those who adhered to the restrictions, and it is unjust, especially if the former are not duly penalised.
It istherefore politically significant and in the interest of fairness that the Ministry of Health considers it crucial to fine recently the organisers of the two events for failing to adhere to Covid safety rules.
PN was fined RM20,000 and the organiser of the event with Najib, RM4,000.
Bersatu politicians’ antics also prompted the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) to remind politicians that this type of activity is considered an election offence under Section 8 of the Election Offences Act 1954, involving the direct or indirect distribution of food, drinks or supplies, whether prior, during or after an election with the aim of gaining votes.
Bersih also urged the health minister to reconsider the total ban and instead strictly enforce the standard operating procedures, adding that Malacca’s entry into phase 4 of the national recovery plan should allow for social activities and visits, limited to 50% space capacity with physical distancing.
A total ban on physical activities is clearly a severe disadvantage to the opposition parties, which cannot make their presence satisfactorily felt among the voters.
The notion of a level playing field should also mean that all contending parties be allocated fair and equal airtime on television and radio for their respective campaigning in light of the physical restrictions that are still imposed in Malacca.
While all the parties have access to social media as possible alternative communication platforms for their campaigning, if some have no or equal access to radio and television, particularly the opposition parties, it would indicate that the playing field is still not level.
Voters in Malacca, who earlier faced an abrupt regime change not of their own making, deserve a free and fair election untainted by political machinations. – The Malaysian Insight