EC chairman: Covid-19 offers chance for Malaysia to approach elections in ‘new and innovative ways’

EC chairman Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun speaks to reporters in Putrajaya January 22, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
EC chairman Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun speaks to reporters in Putrajaya January 22, 2020. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — Election Commission (EC) chairman Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun has told Malaysians they must come to terms with the new norms resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, including in matters related to the electoral process.

Malaysiakini reported him as saying this has been reflected by the forthcoming Chini by-election’s standard operating procedures (SOP) which do not permit the customary ceramah gatherings and house-to-house campaigning.

“I am of course conscious of the fact that when there can be no ceramah, gatherings and house-to-house campaigning, it may be argued that the effectiveness of the democratic process is somewhat lessened,” Azhar was quoted as saying.

However, he said the pandemic’s situation presented a grave risk to the public as a whole, and the EC cannot afford to take the chance.

“This is the new norm that we have to live with, even with the electoral process. It is time for everyone to realise that new norms will affect not just how we go to the market or go to school, but also how we vote and campaign.

“It covers all aspects of our lives, whether we like it or not. This is the best we can do,” Azhar said.

Yet, not all is gloomy, as the chairman added Malaysia can now start looking at “new and innovative ways” for political campaigning or when carrying out the electoral process.

Last Monday, when he announced the ban on physical campaigning for the Chini by-election on July 4, Azhar urged its candidates to take advantage and maximise their online presence through social media.

He added the EC’s SOPs are not “cast in stone” and can be updated following developments including the introduction of new measures after the recovery movement control order is lifted on August 31, if another by-election is called for, or if there is progress in developing a cure for Covid-19.

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