Opposition criticises polls SOP, says rules designed to give maximum advantage to GPS

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Sarawak opposition parties have criticised the election standard operating procedure (SOP) for the state election.

They said the rules were designed to give the incumbent Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) the maximum advantage in the race to win the ballot, and that they were not fighting on a level playing field.

DAP state chief Chong Chieng Jen, in leading the charge, claimed it was designed “to give maximum advantage” to GPS.

PKR elections director Dominique Ng said the SOP does not provide for a level playing field.

However, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) vice president Abdul Karim Hamzah has dismissed the claims while pointing out the same SOP was unveiled during the Malacca elections and that the opposition did not voice their dissent then.

Chong, who will be contesting the Padungan seat in this election, having moved from the Kota Sentosa seat he had held for three terms, accused the Election Commission (EC) of perpetrating an “improper, unfair election” with the SOP.

The SOP, released on Sunday – on the eve of nomination day – was largely tailored to that implemented for last month’s Malacca elections.

The one feature that is found in both the Malacca and Sarawak SOP is the ban on ceramah (political gathering) and other face-to-face modes of campaigning, ostensibly to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Most, if not all parties, have said the ban was restrictive and curbed their ability to reach the voters.

That ban, however, is not applicable in 64 of the 82 constituencies in Sarawak that do not have satisfactory communications service.

Chong took particular exception to the SOP that requires ceramah to be held indoors, in village community halls or the ruai (common area) of the longhouse.

He said health experts say that the virus will spread more readily in an enclosed area rather than outdoors.

“It’s more contagious indoors than outdoors. The SOP is not to contain the virus but to contain the opposition.”

He insinuated that by having the ceramah indoors, it would be next to impossible for the opposition to hold ceramah in the villages.

Chong pointed out that community halls are under the control of the government-appointed village security and development committees (JKKK), so, invariably, the opposition would find it hard to rent halls.

“The opposition can never rent the balai (hall) to have any function.”

A total of 349 candidates will contest in the 12th Sarawak state election on December 18 for a place in the 82-seat legislative assembly.

On restrictions on meeting the voters face-to-face, PKR’s Ng said this definitely disadvantaged the opposition.

“We can’t campaign (face-to-face) while the government can still do so via the official media,” he said alluding to the government’s control of the radio and television stations.

He also slammed the SOP banning campaign workers from outside Sarawak from the polls.

PKR will definitely be handicapped by the rule, Ng said.

Ng became PKR’s first-ever assemblyman when he triumphed in Padungan in the 2006 election.

He said while the rule bans parties with national affiliation from bringing campaign workers in, GPS could bring in “their PN (Perikatan Nasional) big shots without restrictions.

“They can say they are on official duties.”

Standing on the other side of the political divide, PBB’s Karim said he was puzzled by all the claims.

Karim, the state’s minister of tourism, arts and culture, said when the SOP was introduced for the first time in the Malacca elections “none of the opposition and parties in the ruling government alike said anything or made comments…that with the SOP the playing field is not level”.

“Whatever SOP, rules, and regulations that have been drawn up by the EC and the Health Ministry cover both sides of the political divide.

“It should not be an issue. The opposition has no excuses to allege that GPS are given preferences with relaxed rules.

“The SOPs that are drawn are for both the government and the opposition.

“They cannot claim it is tying their hands behind their back while the GPS’ are not.” – TMI