Bersih 2.0: Total ban on political gatherings ahead of Melaka election unfair to candidates, voters

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Bersih 2.0 suggested that polling day be extended to three days to avoid a mass traffic of voters. — Bernama pic
Bersih 2.0 suggested that polling day be extended to three days to avoid a mass traffic of voters. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 today said that proper and fair Covid-19 standard operating procedures must be introduced to allow candidates in Melaka state election to campaign.

While acknowledging the risk of a potential surge in Covid-19 cases, it stressed that the government must provide alternatives to ensure clean and fair election procedures are in place.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MoH) today announced that it is prohibiting all activities, gatherings or social meetings related to political campaigning for next month’s Melaka poll.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin cited the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, also known as Act 342, for the prohibition.

“While we acknowledge that the risk is real and precautions are necessary, a total ban is a suppression of all candidates' right to campaign and express themselves, the voters' right to make an informed decision by hearing from the candidates, and ultimately is a suppression of democracy itself,” it said in a statement this morning.

It added that while the ban was on all political parties, the playing field was already unfair, with the state media allegedly focusing on the achievements and activities of the ruling party while playing up the failures of the Opposition.

“Bersih 2.0 calls on the health minister to reconsider the total ban on physical gathering, and instead implement stricter enforcement of the SOP outlined by the National Recovery Plan (NRP) by increasing the number of enforcement officers during the period of the Melaka poll.

“Any violators, regardless of party affiliations, should be fined or prosecuted under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988,” it added.

Bersih 2.0’s SOP proposal started with a nomination process where parties would need to submit their nomination papers to the state Election Commission (EC) within a seven-day period and surprise rejection should be avoided.

On campaigning, Bersih 2.0 suggested that all physical gatherings should observe proper social distancing and face masks must be worn at all times.

“For political gatherings or ceramahs, chairs must be provided and they must be at least one metre apart, and all attendees must be seated. This should apply also to small gatherings at coffee shops and day or night markets. Face masks must be worn at all times by all speakers and attendees.

“For house-to-house visitations, the number of people allowed to be part of a group should be limited to five and they must not enter a house, or be at least two metres away from households when speaking,” it said.

For polling day, Bersih 2.0 suggested that this could be extended to three days, which will be divided into different categories such as age groups to avoid a mass traffic of voters.

“Voters who are unvaccinated should not be unduly inconvenienced from exercising their voting rights. A health safety booth could be set up to provide instant RTK-Antigen saliva or nasal swab tests to confirm that they are Covid-19 negative before they are allowed to vote with the other voters.

“Those who test positive should be allowed to cast their vote separate from the rest within the health booth,” it added.

It also suggested that gatherings at counting and tallying centres should also be restricted and all results broadcast live on national TV channels.

Yesterday, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng chided Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for banning all physical gatherings due to Covid-19 ahead of the upcoming Melaka state election.

The Bagan MP alleged that the decision was made as the Perikatan Nasional ruling coalition is afraid to face voters following recent events.

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