KUCHING, Nov 24 — After a long and eventful wait, Sarawakians are expected to finally find out today when their 12th state election will be held.

Fresh off the Melaka polls, the Election Commission (EC) is meeting in Kuching this morning to decide the nomination and polling dates for Sarawak.

It is scheduled to give a press conference after the meeting ends.

The commission held a similar meeting for Melaka on Oct 18 – some 13 days after the state legislature was dissolved. It set nomination day for Nov 8 and polling last Saturday, after 12 days of campaigning.

If the timing of the concluded polls is anything to go by, the EC could set nomination day for the Sarawak election on Dec 10 and polling on Dec 22 but that is highly unlikely since the latter is a weekday.

As polling tends to fall on weekends, there are some pundits who reckon that it will be on Dec 11 but mostly, it is believed that the EC will fix nomination on Dec 6, which is a Monday, and after 12 days of campaigning, polling will be on Saturday, Dec 18.

There is also the remote possibility that the EC could extend polling to two days mainly for crowd control as Sarawak is still not completely out of the woods yet with Covid-19. The last time we had two days of polling for a state election was in 1996.

Bearing in mind that Sarawak must hold the election within 60 days from the dissolution of the State Legislative Assembly on Nov 5, polling on Dec 18 seems plausible especially since many Sarawakian are expected to return home for the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival on Dec 21 and just around the corner, Christmas.

For many it will be a homecoming more than a year in the making and what a year-end party that will culminate in – depending of course on what changes the government makes to its Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) next.

Speaking of Covid-19, the Melaka polls do appear to be a godsend for Sarawak as the EC will be able to refine and improve SOPs, which clearly were a flop for the Sabah election last year as a huge spike in Covid-19 cases was seen after the polls.

Certainly, the EC must also review its rules for campaigning for the Sarawak polls after all the complaints in Melaka.

With its 82 seats, which is almost three times more than Melaka, Sarawak is clearly a more challenging state logistically for an election, especially one that is being held during a pandemic which has claimed more than 1,500 lives in Sarawak alone.

Politicians from both sides of the divide found the campaign SOP for Melaka stifling and impractical for Sarawak as some constituencies are located in far-flung areas where there is limited access to the internet and other forms of electronic media.

Several days after Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu deputy president Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah urged the EC to come up with realistic SOPs for Sarawak, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) secretary general Dato Sri Alexander Nanta Linggi said the EC should reconsider its ban on house-to-house campaigning.

“We hope that house-to-house campaigning be permitted as we don’t have complete communication facilities yet, but there (in the Melaka state election) they were using phones, the television, Internet, and so on,” he said.

Similarly, after launching the PKR Sarawak election machinery in Kuching on Saturday, its president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called on the EC to discuss SOPs for the Sarawak polls with all parties first to avoid unfairness.

He said the implementation of the election SOPs for Melaka was unreasonable, thus affecting PKR’s campaign.

“I think the SOP is unreasonable without discussion with the public and political parties. It is (unfairly) done with dual classes involving upper class and lower class,” he said.

PKR was wiped out in the Melaka poll.

The lack of communication facilities will surely be a major hurdle for opposition candidates who do not have the resources nor control over the media that their GPS opponents have.

And the widely reported SOP breaches in Melaka should be a clear indication that the fines are not enough to deter politicians on their quest to become YBs.

In his response to the concerns over the election SOP for Sarawak, EC chairman Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh had said that the state polls would see more relaxations.

“Sarawak’s state assembly and parliamentary constituencies are far away from each other, unlike Melaka which has a high population density.

“The concern over the possibility of Covid-19 infection in Melaka is higher as compared to Sarawak due to its (geography and demography).

“But we will have to first check with the relevant parties in Sarawak before we can allow more campaign relaxations. Since Sarawak is a big state, it will possibly be allowed,” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times Press.

It is, however, unlikely that the EC will announce its election SOP today.

In the meantime, it will perhaps do the EC and contenders in the polls good to heed the words of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when he gave his consent to lift the Emergency on Sarawak some three months ahead of the scheduled Feb 2, 2022.

“In His Majesty’s opinion, the country is still struggling with the threats of Covid-19 and the pandemic situation is still worrying,” Istana Negara said when announcing the royal decree.

“It is a complicated and difficult decision to make, but the King’s consent was granted to uphold democracy and return the power to the people to elect and form a new state government.

“Most assuredly, His Majesty emphasised that the safety and well-being of the people should be given priority and always be placed above political and personal interests.”

Sarawak will only know the full cost of the 12th state election on her people a week or two after the last vote has been counted.

Let’s hope that our pursuit of democratic rights this year will not come at a high price and that those who are given the mandate to govern Sarawak over the next five years will truly be deserving. — Borneo Post