KUCHING: The 12-day campaigning period kicks off today in Sarawak with the Election Commission (EC) allowing physical ceramah in 64 state seats identified as having poor 4G coverage.

The physical ceramah will be held under strict Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP), which includes requiring all attendees to be fully vaccinated and test using a RTK-Ag prior to the event.

Attendance is limited to 50% capacity or a maximum of 150 people at one time.

“Attendees should only be the residents of the particular longhouse or kampung,” according to the SOP released yesterday.

The EC also stated that the ceramah is restricted to two hours and that it cannot go beyond 10pm.

They are also not allowed in urban areas, public or open spaces.

“Any form of entertainment during the campaign is not allowed, and food provided must be in the form of packed food.”

Organisers are required to apply for a permit from the police prior to the ceramah in which they must state the location and date of the event.

(During the recently concluded Melaka state election, all forms of physical ceramah were not allowed.)

The EC said interstate travel to Sarawak for the purposes of campaigning would not be allowed and only five top leaders from contesting parties will be permitted to enter the state.

The list of these designated leaders must be submitted to the state’s disaster management committee.

Candidates and party workers will be allowed to hand out flyers and campaign materials to voters, but they must first undergo a RTK-Ag test.

The EC said that when distributing flyers, candidates and party supporters will not be allowed to enter the homes of voters.

“It (the distribution of flyers) can only be done in front of the house or longhouse. They are not allowed to enter.”

The distribution can only involve three persons (candidate and party supporters) who are fully vaccinated. Shaking hands is not allowed.

Gatherings and processions by supporters will not be allowed on Nomination Day as well.

The 64 state seats where limited physical campaigning will be allowed are constituencies that are mostly located in the interiors of Sarawak.

They include Tanjong Datu, Stakan, Telang Usan, Mambong, Bawang Assan, Baleh, Ba’Kelalan and Gedong

The remaining 18 state urban constituencies where physical ceramah is banned include Padungan, Batu Kawa, Pending, Satok and Kota Sentosa in Kuching; Pelawan in Sibu; Tanjung Batu in Bintulu; and Piasau, Pujut and Senadin in Miri.

For now, some parties are hoping for leeway as they said that online campaigning is rather ineffective if they want to reach out to constituents living in remote places.

“Social media campaigns wouldn’t work in remote areas in Sarawak, given the poor Internet coverage,” said PAS deputy president Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man.

PAS will be contesting in Beting Maro, a rural constituency located in the Sri Aman division.

“Let candidates meet voters in their homes, but under strict SOP,” he told reporters.

Dennis Ngau, the two-term assemblyman for Telang Usan, said he and his team are not worried as they already did their groundwork over the past year.

“We were already prepared for this election – since last year – as we foresaw this situation (pandemic-related restrictions).

“So we set up committees in all 88 villages in our constituencies. The people are given information and material, so they know about the work that we have been doing.”

His experience in previous elections has taught him to prepare for the unexpected, said Dennis, who will be contesting in Telang Usan again, representing Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

The Telang Usan seat in the Miri division is one of the most remote constituencies in Sarawak. More than half of the villages there do not have Internet connectivity, Dennis said.

(Beting Maro and Telang Usan are among the 64 seats where physical ceramah will be allowed.)

National Professors Council senior fellow Dr Jeniri Amir said the strict SOP that was enforced in the Melaka election last month cannot be applied to Sarawak.

“Some of the state seats in Sarawak are as big as states in the peninsula,” he said.

Jeniri also said more than 95% of Sarawak’s adult population is fully vaccinated.

“Taking all this into consideration, they should relax the SOP, because Sarawak has more than 6,000 villagers and longhouses.”