PUTRAJAYA, Aug 23 — The new norms and compliance with prescribed standard operating procedures (SOPs) are among the priorities and must be taken seriously by all parties in the Sabah State Election (PRN) next month to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Election Commission (EC) deputy chairman Dr Azmi Sharom said improvements to the SOP on handling election during the COVID-19 situation would be made based on the current situation in Sabah, whereby the coming state election, which will be the 16th and involve contest for 73 state seats.
With his experience in handling the Chini by-election in Pahang in early July and the Slim by-election in Perak last Aug 29, both during the COVID-19 outbreak, he said the EC was intensifying preparations for the Sabah snap election by ensuring the health and security protocol for the election process runs smoothly.
“In Sabah, it may be different… nomination not held yet and we have no power at this time. When campaigning starts, it would be different. I hope the people are aware that at the moment, the most important thing is their safety,” he said in an interview with Bernama here.
Azmi said the most important thing is for candidates, party machinery and voters to prioritise their health and hygiene when exercising their responsibility and democratic right.
“I would like to emphasize here, for the candidates involved, the current SOP is limited in terms of the number of people who can attend ceramah (political talk), the venue of the talk must also be monitored. Attendees have to scan their body temperature, and their names have to be recorded to allow contact tracing.
“Maximum number allowed is 250 people based on the venue area. If the venue is small, it means the number (attendees) is also small. Can’t shake hands and hug people. Huge crowd like before is not allowed. This is a new norm for every candidate when they campaign. As long as COVID-19 is still on going, we need to be concerned,” he said.
The EC has set Sept 26 for the Sabah State Election, with nomination day on Sept 12 and early voting on Sept 22. There are 1.12 million registered voters in Sabah.
To ensure a smooth polling day, Azmi said the EC would distribute voter’s cards to all registered voters, which, among others, contained their name, polling centre, polling stream and suggested time for them to cast their vote.
He advised voters to follow the suggested time given to cast their vote to avoid congestion at polling centres.
“We have experienced it in the Chini by-election and so far, we are thankful that no COVID-19 Chini cluster was detected, and then the Slim by-election. There are many improvements in terms of standard operating procedures that were discussed with the National Security Council (MKN) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), ”he said.
On the improved SOP for the Slim by-election, compared with the one for the Chini by-election, Azmi said the EC emphasised on the frequency of sanitation, whereby voters had to sanitise their hands from the time they entered the polling centre, at the polling room, after dipping their finger into the ink and again before leaving the polling room.
“I am confident that the time taken to do so does not exceed the time when EC conducted an election when there was no COVID-19. The experience in the Chini by-election and the Slim by-election will be used in Sabah,” he added.
He said the EC will ensure that the election is conducted in compliance with the SOP set by the NSC and MOH as public health issues are a priority for the EC.
The Sabah state election is estimated to cost RM186 million, with a total of 30,540 personnel to be appointed to manage the election process, which will involve 741 polling centres with a total of 2,540 streams.
Azmi said there would be a total of 332 new streams, including for more than 12,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities (OKU) who are registered with the Social Welfare Department.