We have no choice, if we don’t do it now, after five years automatically the State Legislative Assembly will be dissolved.
– Tan Sri Dr James Masing, Deputy Chief Minister

I was invited to a Zoom discussion by some friends last week to give my views on whether the Sarawak government should delay the 12th state election. I politely declined the invitation as I had wanted to pen my views in this week’s column.

Almost everyone outside the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition joined the growing chorus of demands for the state polls to be delayed in light of increasing Covid-19 cases nationwide. Among the first to make the demands were state-based civil society organisation, Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE), and leaders of political parties including DAP.

Even the Election Commission (EC) which has no business in telling the chief minister when to hold an election, hopped on the bandwagon to urge the state government to reconsider its decision, arguing it was not the right time as the country was still battling the pandemic.

Sarawak still has until August next year to hold the state election so there is no need to hurry with early state polls.

The current term of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly expires and automatically dissolves in June next year, with critics arguing that the EC will have 60 days until August to hold polls so there is no need to hurry with early polls.

The concern among these people that we could face the same fate as Sabahans who witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases after their Sept 26 election is unfounded. The 12th state election can still be held with the EC and relevant authorities imposing strict standard operating procedures (SOPs).

If Singapore, South Korea and more recently New Zealand could successfully hold their national elections during this pandemic, there is no reason why Sarawak should delay its election. Even Myanmar is holding its election. And the United States is going ahead with its presidential election.

We just have to study how these countries conducted their polls amidst the pandemic and adopt some of their measures.

Almost all of the individuals, political parties and non-governmental organisations that demanded the polls not be held this year have cited Sabah’s Covid-19 surge as a reason.

While only Sarawak Association for Peoples’ Aspiration (Sapa) chief Dominique Ng has given a reason why the state polls should be delayed until next year — stressing the possibility of vaccines against the virus being made available then, thus ensuring a “safer” election — the rest have just painted a very grim picture without giving any viable alternatives. 

Of course, candidates and campaigners should act responsibly and observe the SOPs like social distancing and wearing of face masks during their campaigns. The EC and enforcement agencies like the police should ensure those involved in the election strictly stick to the safety rules and regulations. It’s their duty anyway.

Resorting to the Covid-19 outbreak as a reason for delaying the polls is not realistic. Certain quarters should not let the efforts to cope with the virus be an excuse to delay the state election. Do not let this pandemic be a reason not to allow the democratic process to take its course.

Certain groups will always find excuses to criticise the ruling government.

It’s good to know that Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has assured that his administration will consult health experts on a suitable time to hold the polls next year.

“This is a very difficult and complex situation, but we have to consider everything before making a decision.

“For us in Sarawak, we cannot predict when Covid-19 will be over. On the other hand, we cannot govern and take measures if we don’t have the mandate,” the chief minister told the media recently.

True, GPS has to go back to the people for a fresh mandate. With a good government to manage the pandemic during the election process, the state administration should make its own decision on an election date and not be dictated to by any quarters — not even the Election Commission — whose main tasks should be fixing the nomination and polling dates following the dissolution of the state legislative assembly, and ensuring the election is conducted peacefully and smoothly.

In any event, whether the state election is held year-end or next year, there is no guarantee that the pandemic will abate. For all you know, it might worsen, and what’s next? What excuse are we going to come up with for delaying the election then?

It would be too risky for Abang Johari to go the distance. Anything can happen next year.

The best solution to this ‘predicament’, if you will, is to allow postal votes for more groups of people to avoid travelling or contacts. These people can even vote from outside the state. There is still time for the Election Commission to work on this proposal, I think.

The other solution is to erect pondoks in constituencies where ballot boxes — under strict supervision of Election Commission officials and police or army personnel — can be strategically placed to minimise voters travelling to polling stations.

The above two proposals are just my two cents’ worth.

Anyway, election this year end or early next year makes no difference to me. I will still exercise my sacred voting right.