AMONG the essence of the President’s statement after the Supreme Council meeting yesterday is regarding the probability that we will face GE15 after the transmission of Covid-19 is at a minimum.
For now and the rest of 2020, Umno is aware that the people do not want the GE to be rushed. The King himself has issued a statement saying that political tensions need to be relaxed as the country is facing the third wave of Covid. But once the Covid threat is eased and if the political situation remains unstable with a very thin majority, returning the mandate back to the people should be a matter of consideration.
However, we cannot just make the call without thinking of ways to conduct elections safely, taking lessons from our experience in Sabah recently. Among things that should be refined by the Election Commission and the Government are:
1. A clear SOP, strict provisions that give confidence to the people and party staff.
The SOP should be clear and unchanged during the campaign period. For example, just make sure that no talks and public meetings are allowed.
Avoid giving adverse interpretations on the number of people allowed to attend such meets, which may ultimately invite problems gradually. We have observed how such events were conducted in areas close to prisons while the crowd was difficult to control.
Whatever procedure is decided, the enforcement of this SOP must also be fair regardless of rank and party. Enforcement officers must also be adequate.
2. Expand postal votes
The right to postal vote should be extended to as many people as possible, especially out-of-area voters and the elderly who are at high risk of Covid infection.
There is no reason why this matter cannot be implemented if there is a political will. In the United States alone, there are already over 80 million voters who have already voted in their presidential election, and many of them are postal votes. Why not Malaysia?
If there are rules or laws that need to be amended in line with the new normal, amend them. If you need more resources and help managing postal votes, get ready. If the budget that the EC or the police will need is much higher, present it in the 2021 Budget.
3. Add channels and voting period
Perhaps there are still those who want to vote manually. This is the right of voters but changes in procedures should be implemented to avoid congestion at the polling station.
Whether adding ballot boxes, channels or the number of voting days (i.e. early voting is allowed until the last day) – everything must be considered so that the safety of voters and election officials is maintained.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF POLITICIANS
The responsibility to conduct any election safely does not rest on the shoulders of the EC or the Government. Political practitioners also have a role to play. Some still insist that politicians are innocent of the Covid-19 wave following the Sabah PRN.
But as someone who has already infected, I see that there is no need to deny the shortcomings from the political parties including Umno itself that contributed to what is happening now. Yes, there may be other factors leading up to the third wave but political practitioners should acknowledge and realize that we also have a responsibility for what has happened. Before blaming others, it is good to look at ourselves first.
So, in addition to politicians talking about the possibility of GE, we should learn from recent mistakes. If the SOP has been set later, the pacts follow. We should avoid the lust to see something through a lens that benefits politics solely beyond social responsibility in line with the aspiration to be a leader.
Whether this GE is early or not, depends on the situation and ultimately the provisions of Allah swt. Again, this is not the main thing now – what matters is Covid, the economy and the Budget. But there is no loss for Malaysia to make initial preparations so that we have a wide range of options, if necessary.