GE15: Could Covid-19 affect voter turnout in case of snap polls? EC says well-prepared to ensure smooth polling

Election Commission deputy chairman Azmi Sharom speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Putrajaya September 1, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Election Commission deputy chairman Azmi Sharom speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Putrajaya September 1, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 ― Speculation is rife that the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition may call for snap polls anytime between the end of this year or early 2021.

However, health and safety concerns remain dominant factors in determining the voter turnout if the 15th general election (GE15) is held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Election Commission (EC) deputy chairman Azmi Sharom said they have been on alert for a possible snap election since March following the sudden fall of Pakatan Harapan government after former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned.

Looking at the recent two by-elections in Chini and Slim River, Azmi told Malay Mail that the turnouts were positive at 74 and 68.4 per cent, respectively.

However, he agreed that the scale of the general election would be bigger, making it difficult to predict that it would see a similar turnout.

Nevertheless, Azmi said all precautionary measures have been put in place to ensure a smooth general election should the government call for one anytime soon.

EC has rolled out strict standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure that the safety of the voters, election workers and volunteers would be paramount during elections in the country.

The new procedures include systematic screening, physical distancing and sanitisation at all polling centres.

Such measures were implemented at the recent by-elections and will be in place for Sabah state election on September 26.

Similar to public places, the polling centres will have a screening checkpoint to record the voter’s personal information and body temperature.

“If the person shows any symptoms, they will be taken to the Health Ministry’s tent to vote separately and get checked again.

“There will also be four sanitisation checkpoints to sanitise the voters’ hands before they enter the polling centre, before and after they dip their finger into the ink as well as upon leaving the centre,” said Azmi.

To mitigate crowding and ensure physical distancing is observed at all times, Azmi said they have decided to send out “voter cards” to all the voters.

Each batch of cards suggest a specific voting time in order to break up the crowd and avoid long queues at polling centres.

“Based on our experience in Chini and Slim River by-elections, we noticed that a big crowd of elderly people tend to show up early in the morning, making it difficult to manage the physical distancing.

“But thankfully, there hasn’t been any Covid-19 clusters or spikes in the number of new infections in Chini,” he added.

He also noted that based on their observations so far, the SOPs do not hinder voting.

Azmi expressed his gratitude to the Health Ministry and the National Security Council for their efforts in assisting EC during the by-elections.

Based on the two recent by-elections, Azmi said a general election during the pandemic appeared manageable but the EC must still consider other factors to see if additional measures were necessary.

“Let’s not forget that Chini and Slim River are fairly small constituencies and are quite rural.

“[Managing] urban constituencies could be more challenging as they are more populated.”