PEKAN, June 20 — The Chini state by-election which is being carried out when the nation is facing the threat of COVID-19 pandemic, would be the benchmark in the implementation of a by-election if the situation is repeated in future.
The by-election is being held when the country is still vigilant against the outbreak now under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) after the MCO in March which saw the approach and focus of the new normal in action.
Even though there were restrictions in the campaign and election process to avoid creating a by-election cluster, the rights of the people in a democratic country cannot be denied, whether to contest for a seat or to cast a vote, by complying to the stipulated standard operating procedure (SOP) set by the related monitoring authorities including the Health Ministry (MOH).
This is evident in the nomination of candidate today which saw three individuals submitting their nominations as candidates for polling on July 4 and they are Mohd Sharim Md Zain, 41, representing Barisan Nasional (BN) and two independent candidates, Tengku Datuk Zainul Hisham Tengku Hussin, 64, and Mohd Shukri Mohd Ramli, 49.
Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Faculty of Communications and Media Studies senior lecturer, Assoc. Prof Datuk Dr. Ismail Sualman said in the current situation, the SOP is required so long as its implementation did not mar the process of democracy in the country.
He said all parties needed to cooperate by adhering to the set SOP by Election Commission (EC) in whatever situation to contain the spread of the infection.
“To ensure that no new cluster emerged among residents or workers, all voters and personnel should comply with the SOP. The most important thing is that they should not assemble or be caught in crowded places and if possible avoid attending ceramah or talks even though it is allowed to be held,” he said.
The Chini state by-election began with good compliance in the new normal environment during the nomination of candidates at the National Youth Skills Institute (IKBN) in Pekan near here today when there was no large procession, gathering of supporters to accompany the candidate to the nomination centre and there was no party machinery to create an air of festivity like the usual elections before this.
EC had ordered that supporters were not allowed to accompany their candidate and they can only be 1.5 kilometre from the hall to prevent non-compliance on social distancing.
Before entering the hall fencing, all party personnel including the media have to meet the SOP requirement of having their temperature checked and attendance recorded. In the hall, only the candidate, proposer and seconder or any two of them or any one of them is allowed to enter the hall to present the nomination form.
Yesterday, EC decided to make several amendments to the special SOP for the Chini by-election which was announced earlier, among them were the relaxation to allow candidates and parties to campaign via ceramah with a capacity not exceeding 250 people at one time and place and it is only for indoor premises according to the location apart from ensuring compliance to the set SOP.
For house to house campaign, only three persons are allowed in the team comprising either the candidate or supporters.
Activities involving physical touching such as shaking hands with voters are not allowed and the candidate or representative should adhere to existing regulations on social distancing as well as keeping a record of the houses visited.
The candidate is also encouraged to maximize the campaign online via social media.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science lecturer Dr. Ainul Adzellie Hasnul said if all parties are able to comply with the SOP set by EC, it would be a good example that could be adopted for other by-elections or even the general election if a similar situation emerges.
“This is an attempt and if it is successful, EC would be more prepared for other elections in future similar situation,” she said.
The Chini by-election is the 11th by-election held after the 14th general election (GE14) and this time, it is very different compared to the previous 10 by-elections organised by EC.
A total of 14 polling centres with 66 voting streams would be provided and EC has also arranged special streams for the voters above 60 years old while voters with disabled status would be voting in stream 1.
The by-election at Chini constituency which is one of the four state seats under the Pekan parliamentary constituency was held following the death of its incumbent Datuk Seri Abu Bakar Harun, 60, at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) on May 7 of a heart attack.
In GE14, Abu Bakar defended the Chini seat with a 4,622-vote majority after receiving 10,027 votes to defeat PAS candidate Mohd Fadhil Noor Abdul Karim (5,405) and Mohamad Razali Ithnain of PKR (1,065).
There are 20,990 registered voters for the Chini by-election according the 2019 Voter Registration updated as at May 7 this year with voters aged 40 and below forming the majority in the constituency, representing about 56 per cent. There 10,269 male voters or 48.92 per cent while 10,721 female voters make up 51.08 per cent.
Early voting is on June 30 and the campaign period set by EC is 14 days after the nomination day while polling day is on July 4.