The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a great burden on democracy worldwide with many elections being put on hold while others have been held subject to certain conditions.
We in Sarawak have also been affected by the pandemic and are awaiting news of the upcoming elections.
Once the decision is made to proceed with elections, the other important feature of the democratic process that will be affected by the pandemic is the run-up to the polling day – the election campaigning process.
Election campaigns are opportunities for political parties and candidates to share their thoughts and influence the public as to the future directions.
The campaigns in themselves are also an important part of democracy. These political campaigns are evidence that a healthy democratic process in a country exists.
Campaign rallies have always been at the core of election campaigns and also serve to energise the party faithful.
But during this current health crisis, there is a high risk that political campaigns would not only be occasions to share ideas and manifestoes but also to share the Covid-19 virus.
It looks like there certainly will not be any glad-handing and backslapping for quite some time to come at upcoming election campaigns.
No voter in their right mind would now be willing to clasp the hand of any candidate wanting to stand for election nor should the candidate attempt to do so.
This would indeed be an uncomfortable situation for all candidates for whom ‘pumping the flesh’ is a core part of campaigning, as it is said to form a personal connection with the voters.
The ongoing prevalence of the Covid-19 virus in the community would ring alarm bells in the minds of most constituents if they were to take part in traditional campaigns.
It is therefore timely that our Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has just announced that the government has barred ceramah and social gatherings related to the upcoming Melaka election campaigns from tomorrow until Nov 27 to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Similarly, this would most likely apply to elections in Sarawak as well.
So, what’s in store for the candidates in terms of their ability to do campaigning to reach out to the voters, touch the minds and get their support at the ballot box?
Obviously, all the parties have geared up to shift their campaigns online. The social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even YouTube will be heavily used in the upcoming election.
The widespread use and reliance on social media do not in itself guarantee that the political parties and candidates will be able to communicate their ideas, manifestoes and achievements in a manner that the electorate pays attention to or would be able to understand.
I for one, when viewing a video of any sort usually move on if it does not catch my attention in the first five to 10 seconds unless I have a specific interest in the topic.
I am sure this is quite common. This is what happens in a world overloaded with information and short attention spans. This type of behaviour by voters would pose a challenge to a candidate.
A campaign video would need to be crafted in such a way as to attract a person in the first few seconds and thereafter hold their attention. Not an easy feat.
Messaging platforms like Whatsapp, WeChat and Telegram are already playing an important role. Well-designed infographics with short key messages in them can transmit convincing information to voters.
Political rallies can also be held online and streaming live online is another tool that is becoming more popular.
The face of election campaigning has been changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, I would venture to say that the pandemic has just speeded up the process.
This does not mean that all the traditional forms of campaigning will never return; just that perhaps their level of importance as the centrepiece of election campaigns will be diluted.
However, ultimately, voters need to realise that no matter what message they get, keep in mind it is always easier to tear down the good work done by achievers rather than talkers only.
The Sarawak government led by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and his team has put in tremendous efforts to build and upgrade many aspects of Sarawak, including the huge efforts made to ensure the safety and health of Sarawakians during this pandemic.
Many of the initiatives and achievements are not just promises but have actually been delivered with positive impacts on the lives of Sarawakians.
Placing your cross in the right place on the ballot paper will ensure the continued progress of Sarawak.
The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.