Monday, January 11, 2021

Putrajaya’s election reforms chief against snap polls during pandemic

Smaller parties would suffer under Covid-19 regulations, in addition to the health risk involved, he says.

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The head of Putrajaya’s committee tasked with reforming the electoral system has come out strongly against any move to call for snap polls as the country reports its highest daily number of Covid-19 cases yet.

Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, a former chairman of the Election Commission (EC) who now heads the Electoral Reforms Committee, also warned that a general election in the midst of efforts by health authorities to battle the pandemic would spark a national health disaster.

“I do not support any move to call for elections during Covid-19,” Rashid, the EC chairman who oversaw two general elections between 2000 and 2008, told MalaysiaNow.

His comments come against a backdrop of talk that a general election could be called amid political manoeuvring to topple the seven-month-old government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Similar manoeuvring in Sabah recently forced the Warisan-led government to dissolve the state assembly in the hope of obtaining a fresh mandate.

The 15th general election should be called by 2023.

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, more than 60 countries have postponed their elections, fearing the spread of the virus which has so far infected some 35 million people, claimed the lives of more than a million and ravaged economies across the world.

Neighbouring Singapore however went ahead with its general election, complete with “online rallies” and socially distanced house visits.

But Rashid said the Singapore example could not be applied to Malaysia, as the electorate of the city-state is much smaller than that of its larger neighbours.

He added that the Singapore election was “equivalent to just a local government election”.

Online campaign bad for fair play

Rashid said at the heart of the argument against holding elections during the pandemic was the question of fair play, as more established parties would have no problem carrying out unconventional methods of campaigning.

Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman.

“Campaigning in democratic elections is the most important process. Small parties will not survive under no-campaign regulations,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He also said door-to-door campaigns would be “more damaging to health”.

“The Sabah election proved this as the authorities did not have the capacity to check and control, given the volume of campaign activities all over the country.

“My plea is, please, don’t call for elections now,” Rashid added.

Earlier, MalaysiaNow quoted EC deputy chairman Azmi Sharom as saying that the commission had no say on whether elections should be held back due to the virus scare.

“If a seat becomes vacant, or a legislative assembly is dissolved, we are duty-bound to conduct elections,” he said.

The Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations in a recent analysis meanwhile warned of the ease with which fake news on Covid-19 infections could impact voter turnout when elections are held during the pandemic.

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