KUCHING: Political parties have blamed the strict standard operating procedure (SOP) on physical campaigning as the cause for a much watered down affair in this election.
They say the restrictions have somewhat affected their election strategies as personal interaction with voters is the most effective way to win over their support.
In the SOP issued by the Election Commission, physical campaigning is not allowed in 16 out of the 82 seats contested as these areas are deemed to have adequate Internet connectivity for online communication to be carried out.
As for the remaining 64 seats, ceramah can only be attended by a maximum of 150 people at one time or occupy just half of the premises’ capacity. The event is not allowed to exceed more than two hours and that it must end by 10pm.
Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said there is no better way of campaigning for election candidates than meeting face to face with people.
“Extending personal greetings, doing fist bumps with voters, making eye contact and giving smiles are the kind of body language that has always been the best campaign methodology.
“In Sarawak, which is unique in its geography and demography, this approach is important. With limitations to meet, it will somehow affect the candidates’ campaign strategy,” he said when contacted.
Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) youth chief Datuk Gerald Rentap Jabu has been travelling to several constituencies to help fellow candidates in their campaign.
Under EC’s election campaigning rules, only a limited number of party leaders have the leeway to travel across constituencies and Rentap is one of them.
“The strict SOP dictates that only selected leaders are allowed to travel to other constituencies. For us to persuade voters to choose us, these physical campaigns are important but we have to strictly follow the SOP,” he said when met at the Rumah Engkudu longhouse in Krian.GPS candidate for the Krian seat, Friday Belik, said physical campaigning is crucial in Krian, which is a largely rural area with many longhouses in areas with poor Internet connection.
“I am a first-time candidate, so it is important to meet the voters face to face.
“By now, everyone, even in rural places, is of course aware of Covid-19 SOP, so they know they must comply with the rules,” he said.
Saribas incumbent Mohamad Razi Sitam, 48, acknowledged that the no-physical campaign ruling had affected his campaign mode.
“We will just have to make the most of our limitations,” said the two-term assemblyman, who is in a five-cornered fight.
Parti Sarawak Bersatu’s Batu Lintang candidate See Chee How said it felt awkward at first that he could not shake hands with voters due to the restrictions on physical campaigning this time.
“But generally everyone accepts that this is the new norm. After a few days, it now feels quite normal,” he said.
See said the one drawback about online campaigning was that the communication was very much one-way, unless viewers left comments.
“We will only be able to gauge how effective this alternative way of campaigning is after the election,” he added.
State DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen, who is taking on the Padungan seat located in the centre of Kuching, said the strict SOP was a hindrance to his efforts to reach out to voters, adding that physical ceramah had always been the strength of DAP.
“We lost our most powerful weapon, so we have to adapt,” he said.
PKR’s youngest candidate, 24-year-old Cherishe Ng, who is contesting in Batu Lintang, also agreed that the strict SOP was a hindrance, but her team is working even harder at leaving pamphlets in letter boxes and on social media.
“We have to work within the constraints of the SOP,” she said.