NOMINATION day for the Johor state election wrapped up yesterday, and those contesting have begun campaigning for the March 12 polls.
There might be a sense of unease beyond the usual political uncertainty, though, as everyone remembers what happened after the Sabah state election in September 2020.
Covid-19 cases spiked and Malaysia had to return to a strict lockdown, which negatively affected the economy as well as education as ill-prepared students and teachers at all levels were pitched into remote learning and struggled to deal with less than stellar Internet connections and access to devices among the B40 lower income group.
But the country has gone through two state elections relatively well since then – Melaka in November and Sarawak in December 2021.
The Johor election comes at a time when cases caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant have reached the highest numbers since the first lockdown in March 2020.
We topped 30,000 for the first time this month, reaching a high of 32,070 new cases on Thursday. Thankfully, as the Health Ministry had reiterated, most were less severe cases and ICU bed usage remained manageable.
Nevertheless, the authorities are reminding everyone involved in the Johor election, from candidates to voters, to remember the SOP and adhere strictly to it. The SOP is actually less stringent than what was enforced during the Melaka and Sarawak elections.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin explained that it is based on ministry studies of the effects of the Omicron variant on public health as well as the country’s high vaccination rate – among the highest in the world.
For the first time since 2020, ceramah and face-to-face campaigning will be allowed statewide – during the Sarawak polls such campaigning was only allowed in areas with poor Internet access.
However, such campaigning in Johor is still circumscribed as the Election Commission (EC) has said that ceramah can only be held at political party offices and official operations rooms – i.e. ceramah in open or public areas that would draw large, probably uncontrollable crowds, are forbidden.
And, of course, political candidates, supporters and voters must follow the standard SOP of maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks (properly covering nose and mouth, please!).
For voters, the SOP stipulates that if you are positive for Covid-19 you cannot leave your quarantine area to vote. For those with symptoms or under quarantine for being a close contact of a Covid-19 case, special procedures are in place to allow you to vote. Go to bit.ly/election_sop for further details.
We need to strike a balance between allowing the democratic process to unfold and containing the pandemic. The SOP will, hopefully, do that, and it is the responsibility of the public and politicians to strictly adhere to it.