By Siti Nurain Ratani
On June 6, Sarawak Legislative Assembly speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar announced that the term of the legislature was extended until the national Emergency expires on August 1, 2021.
The decision was made following the proclamation of Emergency by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah aimed at facilitating the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Emergency and the pandemic have given rise to various socio-economic as well as political issues. In order to get some insight into them, some of the issues were presented in an interview session with Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) political analyst Associate Professor Dr Lee Kuok Tiung.
The following are some of his take on the narratives on the next Sarawak state election, the pandemic and various related matters.
The 11th Sarawak State Assembly term has ended after five years; however, the Sarawak election had to be postponed. What are the implications in terms of the democratic system practised in Malaysia?
Lee: The election is mandatory because the 11th Sarawak State Assembly term ended after five years on June 6. In other words, the Sarawak State Assembly was automatically dissolved on 7 June 2021.
According to the electoral system in Malaysia, the Election Commission (EC) must hold elections within 60 days. However, looking at the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sarawak, priority must be given to the safety and wellbeing of the people.
The daily infection rate is still at an alarming level. Citizens should be a priority as well as economic recovery and social welfare.
However, the date of August 1, 2021 can be brought forward if the Covid-19 pandemic in the country is successfully controlled.
Should the election be held, and when is the right time?
As long as we don’t solve the issue of flattening the Covid-19 pandemic infection curve, we can’t figure out whether or not this election should be held.
The Sarawak election is mandatory in a completely different way from the Sabah election on September 26 2020 which has been labelled as the cause of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
Sabah Chief Minister at the time Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had taken the step of dissolving the State Assembly on July 30, 2020 when he legitimately lost the majority of the assemblyman’s support to continue leading the Sabah government. We all know that since then the number of Covid-19 cases has continued to rise sharply.
During the PRN Sabah campaign period in September last year starting from the date of the dissolution of the State Assembly, we saw various SOPs were violated or not complied with.
Your opinion on the leadership of Allahyarham Pehin Seri Adenan Satem (Tok Nan) and current Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg?
Both leaders have their respective advantages. Tok Nan took over as the Chief Minister of Sarawak on February 28 2014. In the blink of an eye, he became the hero of Sarawak with his own style and identity. I believe everyone remembers Team Adenan, Adenan Fever, theAdenanWay and the OohHaa cries.
Meanwhile, Abang Johari took office on January 13 2017 and he has made more than 53 decisions that benefited the people of Sarawak.
We need to take into account during that period various important political events that took place such as the collapse of the National Front (BN) party in the 14th General Election (GE), the Sarawak government was an opposition government and then the formation of a new political line in March 2020 known as the National Alliance (PN) where Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) became ‘kingmaker’.
The success of the Abang Johari-led GPS government also obtained five percent state sales tax (SST) on petroleum products from Petronas after a series of court hearings. This is a success to be proud of.
This is clearly better than the sweet promises of politicians who want to give 20 percent oil royalties if they win. Prior to that, other firms such as Shell, Murphy Oil, Pertamina and Sapura OMV had already paid their dues.
At the same time, Abang Johari’s blueprint to make Sarawak a developed region in Malaysia by 2030 shows that he has a vision.
On Chinese politics, can you tell a little bit about this?
We need to shift the paradigm of looking at the uniqueness of Chinese politics. The Chinese community itself has many ethnic tribes that are rich in their culture, language and religion. Perceptions or assumptions of rich Chinese, Chinese engaged in business, majority Chinese are in urban areas, etc. need a new assessment to understand the reality of the Chinese community.
This is because the process of cultural assimilation, migration due to the process of urbanisation, the population in urban settlements has changed. This does not take into account the prejudice and discrimination against the Chinese through racist sentiments that are played to win the support of certain groups that were once only seen to happen in ‘Malaya’ has now permeated into Sarawak.
That is why when Tok Nan insisted that the Chinese were not immigrants and shouted that he was the Chief Minister for all Sarawakians, he became popular in the blink of an eye.
At the same time, credit should also be given to SUPP’s rebranding efforts led by Dr Sim, which to some extent have begun to appear to be bearing fruit.
Can you comment on #KerajaanGagal @ U-turn and can inconsistencies in policy cause chaos and frustration to the people?
Inconsistencies in policies will cause chaos and frustration to the people as the society has been placed in a misunderstanding with comfortable security such as opening schools, allowing night market, religious activities and others.
We need leaders to do the right thing. The government’s willingness to listen to people’s grievances and make the necessary changes is important.
There are those who are upset with the changes that happen from time to time and even some that happen too fast. It is fitting to credit leaders who acknowledge their own weaknesses and wisely correct them. Not only does the leader need to listen to the voice of the people, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) also needs to be appropriate and practical.
That’s the kind of leader we need. A leader should not be harsh but should act according to the current circumstances and situations.
Some parties seem disappointed with the postponement of the implementation of Undi-18. Your comment on this.
The Dewan Rakyat on July 16, 2019 passed a Bill to amend paragraph (a), Clause 1, Article 119, of the Federal Constitution tabled by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir to lower the voting age from 21 years to 18 years. What is interesting is that a total of 211 MPs from the government (Pakatan Harapan) and the opposition supported the proposal, which is more than two-thirds (2/3) of the 222 MPs needed.
The amendment also involves paragraph (b), Article 47 (b) of the Federal Constitution which relates to the minimum age to be a member of the Dewan Rakyat where the age qualification to be a candidate has been lowered from 21 years to 18 years.
The two main agenda brought through the motion touched on the age of eligibility to vote and being a candidate to contest was lowered from 21 to 18 years and registration was automatic.
Therefore, do not politicise this issue as if certain parties are afraid or try to avoid these young voices being involved in determining who will win the election and form the government.
The question of being more critical, emphasising transparency and integrity or accountability and so on is up to the voters.
What is your message to political parties that want to contest in the upcoming 12th Sarawak State Election?
As a leader, when they speak, they need to use intellect and rationality because we often see statements that hurt feelings so much that they are criticised and even insult the people. These leaders need to learn to be more sensitive and concerned with the difficulties of others. Occasionally try to put yourself in the position of others to see from a different perspective.
Next, pay attention to the voice of the grassroots. No opinion is too small to be heard nor too big to follow. The voices of these people according to the current environment for example in the present context are certainly their narrative that revolves around the Covid-19 pandemic.
Communication is actually easy. An idea, including a manifesto, must be clearly communicated followed by a planned and orderly implementation.
Your comment on the mitigation plan undertaken by the government to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
MCO and SOPs are only temporary measures in curbing the spread of Covid-19 epidemic because, for me, the solution to curb this epidemic is through an immunisation programme by taking vaccine injections so that we can reach herd immunity.
If we take a short-term step and use it for years, it becomes a failure. Many countries have succeeded in bridging the epidemic curve by providing vaccines (immunisation programmes) on a large scale.
Daily infection numbers are still at alarming levels and the people should be a priority, and they should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
In the face of the current Covid-19 outbreak, I see the federal government as well as the Sarawak government have done their best to help the people. It can be seen through the moratorium, financial assistance to various sectors of the economy including hawkers, educational assistance, and so on. We are aware that the assistance cannot solve the problem but it can reduce the burden of the people.
Lastly, your comment on the issues of digital poverty and food security, which are major issues throughout the Covid-19 pandemic?
When we hear that students have had to climb trees to answer exams or set up huts in gardens or orchards, or any high areas around their homes in order to access the internet, it is definitely touching.
Since the implementation of MCO in March 2020 followed by conditional MCO, enhanced MCO, recovery MCO and this year’s proclamation of emergency, the people have been accompanied by new norms. Parents work from homes and children follow the Teaching and Learning at Home (PdPR). This has led to the problem of digital poverty for underprivileged families where some cannot afford to own telecommunication gadgets whether smartphones, computers or laptops.
Poor internet network infrastructure of telecommunication companies has caused some to drop out of education. The problem is not only in the suburbs, countryside or hinterland but in certain areas in the middle of the city where ironically there are ‘blind spots’ that have no coverage.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has issued a statement that purchasing, using or owning cellular signal booster and repeater equipment is a serious offence. Hence, telco service providers must install more telecommunication towers, especially in Sabah and Sarawak.