Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t deter Sarawak from holding polls soon, say analysts

Should the Sarawak election be held when the country is recording a high number of Covid-19 cases? — Borneo Post Online pic
Should the Sarawak election be held when the country is recording a high number of Covid-19 cases? — Borneo Post Online pic

KUCHING, Oct 9 ­— Political analysts have opined that the current surge in Covid-19 cases in the country should not be an impediment for Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to call Sarawak’s state election soon.

This, they say, is because the state government has done well in containing the virus and whatever public backlash from holding the polls now would unlikely affect the support for the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) ruling coalition.

However, one political analyst The Borneo Post spoke to felt that it would be prudent to wait until the number of Covid-19 cases fell to two digits for a consistent period.

Political scientist Prof Jayum Jawan said the Covid-19 pandemic should not be the excuse to postpone the Sarawak election, which could be held anytime between now and mid next year.

To ensure safe voting, he said it falls upon the authorities, especially the Election Commission (EC), to come up with innovative ways and means to ensure that voters can practise their democratic right.

“Members of the EC are paid to do a job and they should justify their earnings and positions. Postponing it is too easy a way out of taking responsibility for the important job that has been entrusted to them (EC),” he said.

Jayum was also quick to point out that the situation now should work in GPS’ favour.

He said there was no correlation between voting for or turning against GPS in the next state election if it is called during the pandemic.

GPS, backed by dominant component Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), stood a good chance of being returned to power regardless of when state polls is called, he pointed out.

“This is based on the fact that it is the only coalition that is highly organised and disciplined,” he said.

This is in contrast to an array of opposition parties that were basically disorganised, lacking grassroots machineries and lacking resources and good candidates, he said.

He said good candidates were people with a solid background, are known for their work and success as well as people who could be role models, instead of those relatively unknown that some parties have paraded as their potential candidates.

When asked if having the state polls now would also be an advantage for GPS because of a possible low-voter turnout as some Sarawakians residing outside the state might not be able to return, Jayum said any government would usually try to capitalise on such a situation.

“The government of the day calls the election. And it calls an election when it feels that the situation is in its favour. This is an effective strategy for all ruling governments anywhere and it won’t be a unique call by GPS.”

Jayum also believed voter turnout was not a big issue.

“In some countries, voters cast their vote in their place of residence. So your voting station should be consistent with where you are staying and working.

“That would be fair as you help decide what kind of representative or representation you want in your place of residence or work and not vote elsewhere where you do not feature or live in a voting district that you have long left due to work,” he stressed.

Jayum felt that non-residents should not continue to influence voting in their former electoral districts if they have long ago.

Another political analyst, Prof James Chin, said now was the best time for GPS to call the polls because the situation would work in its favour now that the state opposition is not ready especially when parties are in the midst of negotiating seats.

However GPS may have its own internal problem, he claimed.

“There is a strong rumour that a component wants to move base from Bintulu to Sibu. Apart from that there is an overlapping seats problem,” said Chin, referring to the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Chin also reckoned that the possibility of a lower voter turnout was only significant in the rural areas because Sarawakians, mostly rural folks, working outside Sarawak would not be able to return due to the movement control order (MCO) and strict standard operating procedures imposed to contain transmission of Covid-19.

“In term of voters punishing GPS if an election is to be called now, that would not likely happen because the State government has been seen as successful in containing the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

Chin claimed the poor would wish for the election to be called immediately because the election campaign would be like a celebration for them.

“Election means money on the ground celebrations. Almost everything is free. An election is the biggest celebration outside Christmas and Gawai,” he said.

Having said that, Chin said calling for the state election remains in the hand of Abang Johari, who is also GPS chairman and PBB president.

“There are for and against answers on the argument of whether the election should be held during this pandemic. It is up to Abang Johari on whether he wants an election now,” he said.

However, Assoc Prof Awang Azman Awang Pawi said it would be wise to wait for the number of Covid-19 cases to go down to two digits and that such numbers remain consistent before elections are called.

This is to reduce public fear and provide them confidence to attend events and go out and vote, he reasoned.

In any case, the election could be postponed if the government declared a state of emergency due to worsening pandemic situation, he pointed out.

Awang Azman also said the Covid-19 pandemic should not be used by GPS as a political advantage to win the next election.

Instead there should be ‘gentleman politics’ during the next state polls, he said.

He said voters might turn on GPS if the election is being held now because the coalition would then be seen not only as being careless but also not learning from Sabah when the number of Covid-19 cases there surged drastically during its recent snap election.

The current term of the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly expires in April next year. — Borneo Post Online

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