Sabah experience shows Sarawak not ready for safe polls

We kicked off our last quarter of the year with a timely reminder from Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah last week as Malaysia anticipates its third wave of Covid-19.

Yesterday, Malaysia recorded its highest number of cases at 432, since the pandemic began. The Health Ministry’s director-general had last week tweeted on social media: “How about all stay at home for a while again?”

Indeed, since the RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order), many Malaysians seemed to have become complacent with the new normal, sometimes failing to abide by the standard operating procedures.

Sitting in coffee shops or simply deciding to jalan-jalan without adhering to physical distancing because… “aiyah, never mind lah, or entering lifts when there is a four-person capacity and you are the fifth because you think… “it is okay la”.

Well, it is not okay. It is obvious many have let their guard down. We seemed to have forgotten that Covid-19, the invisible enemy, is still very much present in society.

Look at what happened after the Sabah elections. In just less than two weeks after, the whole country is left grappling with the worrying spike of Covid-19 cases.

Were we even ready to hold the state elections during the pandemic? While I feel that power-greedy politicians are to be blamed for the spike, I also believe everyone has a role to play, whether or you are a VIP or mot.

Everyone should have taken their own initiative to self-isolate if they had come in contact or been to red zone areas. Having said that, there is no point to self-isolate at home but still be in close contact with family members when the latter (family members) would then go out and about.

Sarawak, being in the ring of fire where Sabah and West Malaysia’s cases are on the rise, is taking stringent steps tighten its borders. I applaud the state government’s decision to close its borders, but we too are anticipating our state elections.

Sarawak held its last state elections on May 7, 2016 and the next is due by July 2021. The state usually holds its elections a year early.

We learnt from the Sabah elections that we are not ready for safe elections, what more a snap general election.

While I understand that it is important we uphold our democratic rights, but are we prepared to risk the health of millions by having the elections during the pandemic?

Election campaigns are public events which are supposed to bring people together to exchange ideas and ideologies for the future. Candidates involved are supposed to reach out to their supporters through gatherings, door-knocking, discussions in a coffee shop and so on. But the pandemic is proving this difficult. Who is going to ensure physical distancing is practised?

In fact, the pandemic can also result in a low voter turnout. Sabah’s elections last month only recorded 66.61 per cent voter turnout. And I believe if the Sarawak elections are held anytime soon, it would be no different.

Perhaps, we should relook at the voting system. Could we emphasise on postal voting or e-voting instead during such unprecedented times? Of course, there are many aspects to consider such as credibility and accessibility. Then, would it be a better decision to delay elections at the cost of our democratic rights for the sake of public health?

Whatever the decision, the health of millions is at stake. And our leaders have to ensure elections, if carried out, are safe just as much as they are credible.

But at times like this, it just seems impossible to run elections without making compromises.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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