BY UMSU PRESS
The Malacca state assembly was forced to dissolve on 4th October 2021, following the withdrawal of support by four representatives for the leadership of then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali. As such, the Election Commission of Malaysia has set the nomination date for the Malacca state election on Nov 8, with the voting date set, Nov 20. The Malacca State Legislative Assembly has 28 seats. The electoral roll listed 495,196 voters, and the Election Commission is targeting a 70 per cent voter turnout for the state polls amidst a respectable 91.7 % vaccination rate among the adult population. Media outlets have reported that the state election could be seen as an acid test for relations between UMNO and PAS but a crucial battleground that could make or break Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia ahead of the 15th general election. Hence, much is at stake for the political trajectory of our country.
However, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has issued a ban on political gatherings in the state under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), which states that there should not be any mass gatherings of people under any phase of the National Recovery Plan. The ban is effective from October 25 to November 27. This has led to a major uproar by the opposition who claims that this is an attempt to suppress the candidate’s right to campaign and express themselves; the rights of the voters to make an informed decision by hearing from the candidates themselves and ultimately leading to the suppression of democracy itself.
A tale of two sides - What is the right decision?
In their defence, the Deputy Health Minister has stated 2 primary reasons for the ban. First, the number of daily cases in Malacca remains high. Second, the government has learnt from their previous blunder following the Sabah state election which saw a tenfold increase in the daily number of Covid-19 cases. As such, strict SOP will be in place throughout the election period to prevent a relapse of another wave of infection.
However, there are certain flaws pointed out by the opposition. First, the opposition has argued that this can be seen as a suppression of the candidate’s right to campaign which may limit their outreach, reducing their contact time with voters. The government of the day on the other hand has actively polarised state media to publicize the achievement and activities of the ruling party. This has led to asymmetric information as the supply of information to the voters is lopsided which may ultimately influence the outcome of the election, perpetuating the idea of flawed democracy. In fact, some have even questioned the timing of the election as Malaysia has finally shown a downward trend in the daily number of Covid-19 cases.
The contradiction between liberty and public health
Nevertheless, consideration of the comments made by each party must be scrutinized before ultimately deciding the right course of action. As Article 10 of the Federal Constitution has ensured the freedom of speech and assembly of citizens, hence, the layman might infer that this may conflict with Act 342. However, there are several limitations to this right which is stated in Article 10 (2)(b) of the Federal Constitution where limitations may be placed for the interest of the security of the Federation. Therefore, the power conferred by Act 342 is not in conflict and should be read in tandem with Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Undeniably, the steps taken by the government deserve some merits. This is because they have learnt from the disaster of the Sabah election and have taken preliminary steps to contain the virus. Thus, it is unjust for the opposition to pin their hopes on a normal election such as the one held pre-pandemic. Instead, the political parties should be flexible and creative in their methods to improve the flow of information to voters and increase their contact through the media. Hence, during the time of duress, several concessions should be made by both parties instead of crying foul for our current unprecedented circumstance.
Ultimately, there is a need to strike a fine balance between public safety and ensuring a fair election process throughout. If the election is to go through, citizens can only take self preventative measures including maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask and frequently sanitizing our hands. Let us hope that our standard of democracy is maintained and not trampled upon by any parties and ensure a relapse of the post-Sabah outbreak will not happen again.
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021
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