WITH less than a week left till the Melaka state polls on Saturday, election fever is heating up.
Also rising, inevitably, is the worry about history repeating itself – that the number of Covid-19 cases will spike in the country, like what we saw after the snap Sabah polls in September 2020.
What is reassuring is that the Election Commission, in cooperation with the Health Ministry (MOH), has set a strict standard operating procedure (SOP) for the Melaka polls campaign period to curb the spread of Covid-19.
For one, all physical campaigns, ceramah, house visits and walkabouts are not permitted throughout the campaign period.
Candidates are encouraged to campaign through social media and mainstream media.
Campaigning by vehicles with loudhailers is also allowed, albeit only during designated hours and with a permit.
Candidates can only have one election operations centre in a constituency, limited to 50% of the premises’ capacity.
Also, members of party election machinery, including campaigners and candidates, are required to undergo a Covid-19 self-test every two days.
And, as how it has become normal now, mask wearing and physical distancing are mandatory in crowded and public spaces throughout campaigning and voting periods.
Non-compliance will see culprits slapped with hefty fines.
While there has been disgruntled rumbling among candidates and parties about the rules, so far there has been relatively good SOP compliance, according to the MOH.
For this, not only the election workers should be applauded but also enforcement authorities and other frontliners, who are again at the forefront of our Covid-19 fight, come rain, shine and, in this case, elections.
Those on the ground for the polls – from the candidates and party and election workers, to supporters and voters – also deserve a pat on the back for abiding with the SOP so far.
However, as Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin stated on Thursday, there is so much more that political leaders can do to ensure that everyone stays safe during this period – for instance, by leading by example so that the public will adhere to the SOP.
As he told reporters, “The MOH has observed that overall, there has been good SOP compliance, but there have been some cases of non-compliance by some leaders and politicians. These people should be setting a good example.
“These politicians should have a better understanding, and perhaps when they go down to the ground, they should have fewer officials escorting them.
“When there are too many in their entourage, it is hard to observe physical distancing.”
The advice should not be taken lightly as the basic reproduction number (R-nought or R0) of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia climbed to 1.04 yesterday, according to Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
The last time the country reported R0 above 1.0 was Aug 31 (1.02), when Covid-19 cases stood at 20,897.
On Friday, Malaysia reported 6,517 new Covid-19 cases – the fifth consecutive day of an upward trend.
With the Sarawak state elections around the corner, and a general election looming, the Melaka state polls will be a litmus test on how elections can be conducted safely in the country. Crucially, it should also be the launchpad for new, and safer, campaign methods during the pandemic.
This has been done effectively in other countries that were also concerned about spreading Covid-19.
Since the pandemic began in March last year, more than 120 countries and territories have held national elections or referendums, with many adopting new campaign approaches to keep safe.
There is no reason why it cannot be done here in Malaysia.