Don’t dilly dally, let’s call the polls!

Regardless of who wins, an election should be a time for optimism and fresh approaches.

—  Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico

Melaka dissolved its State Legislative Assembly (DUN) last Monday, paving the way for a state election.

This is the second state, after Sabah dissolved its DUN following political scheming by its members, which left a devastating effect of political instability.

Sabah, a year ago, dissolved its State Assembly after then-Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal found himself backed to a corner by an opposition that managed to engineer defections.

What is more important is that these two states only had its last election during the 14th general election (GE14) which was just three years ago — Sabah’s Warisan state government didn’t even last until the middle of its term. Meanwhile, the Sarawak DUN is now well and beyond its five-year term where the legislature was supposed to have been dissolved in June.

But the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has effectively curtailed the state government’s plans to hold the election.

Numerous times, I think there were windows where the state election could be held, dating to the later part of 2019 towards the early part of 2020, but then again, Covid-19 put paid to the government’s plans.

As a responsible government, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unfathomable to hold the state polls at the height of transmissions.

Sabah’s previous state government did and it contributed to a Covid-19 wave that, arguably, has continued to spread until the present day.

But then again, in Sabah’s case, the state election wasn’t the only option — another option was for the previous government and the chief minister to step down honourably as well as safely without the need for the state polls.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Confident with the government machinery that they had, they wanted to grill the ‘political frogs’ but ended up getting themselves burned.

As for Sarawak, I would point out there are two differences to Sabah, along with Melaka since we’re on the topic.

For Sarawak, it has no choice but to call for the state election. It last had its state election in 2016, more than five years ago, then under the stewardship of the late chief minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem.

I wish there is a way that we can do without the state election, but there isn’t and we shouldn’t rely on the Emergency Proclamation as it is merely an ‘injury time’ in football terms.

Fact of the matter is, this is the second ‘injury time’ we had received, reviving the life of the Sarawak DUN. The first was from Jan 12 until Aug 1 this year. The extension to that is from Aug 2 this year to Feb 2 next year.

So, yes, we can wait for next year to hold the state polls as the Emergency provides the leeway for it, but then again, one may ask, “How can you be sure that the situation is better next year compared to the next few months?”

I still remember when people said, “We’d rather have the state election next year (2021)” last year. Did the Covid-19 situation improve in 2021? You tell me.

Secondly, the game is now changed as we have the protection of the Covid-19 vaccines which the Sabah election didn’t. This would then be boosted with a third vaccine dose which will be rolled out this month.

In any case, we must be pragmatic, if there is an opportune window, perhaps in the near future where it is ‘safe enough’ to hold the state polls, we shouldn’t dilly dally. We should get it over with.

The keyword here is ‘safe enough’ as with Covid-19 we can never be truly safe. But what we can do is gauge the rate of local transmissions, its severity as well as enforcing stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) when campaigning and polling.

That is the best thing to do. We shouldn’t wait until February 2022, only to find out that (knock on wood), the situation getting worse and ending up needing another ‘injury time’ to keep the Sarawak DUN term alive.

There are people playing to the gallery, saying that calling a state election is endangering the lives of the people; of course the risks are there. I’d be lying if I said it is risk-free.

But then again, we must also understand and realise we have a duty to uphold the Constitution as well as the practice of democracy which is to return the power to the people.