5 Oct 2020
KUCHING: Any move to call for a Sarawak state election during a time when the country is facing another outbreak of Covid-19 would be highly irresponsible, said Rise of Social Efforts (ROSE) president Ann Teo.
She said with the number of new coronavirus cases in the country steadily increasing to a record high of 317 cases on Saturday, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg should avoid calling for the state polls before the end of this year.
“The ruling government still has until June 2021 to get a fresh mandate. It would be more prudent to make sure the (infection) curve flattens first before the mandate is sought by way of state election. “Unless politicians, campaigners and other stakeholders act responsibly and observe the wearing of face masks, social distancing and all other standard operating procedures in all their campaigning activities, we are afraid that the campaign period accorded to parties will trigger spikes or increases in Covid-19 cases like in Sabah,” she said in a statement yesterday.
She said despite calls by the Election Commission (EC) for candidates and contesting parties to opt for online campaigning such as during the Sabah polls, it would be inevitable that all elections require candidates to meet voters face-to-face or in close proximity during a campaign rally.
Teo said voters would also feel unsafe to go out or return to the state to vote if the Sarawak election is called soon or before the current third wave of Covid-19 outbreak abates.
This was evident in the Sabah state election where voter turnout percentage was less than what was anticipated by the EC, she added.
“An election any time soon would also effectively disenfranchise many young voters who had left the state to work or study in Peninsular Malaysia, if absentee voting reforms are not acted fast enough by the Election Commission to enable them to vote where they live.
“We therefore appeal to the Chief Minister of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to review priorities and put people first. The best mandate is where more people can vote and indeed feel safe to go out or come back to vote,” she said.
Teo further remarked that although the EC had identified absentee voting as one of its reforms in its reform action plan, the commission has yet to come up with any recommendations or proposals for the reform, including the option of postal voting despite many requests for ‘out-of-region’ voting for Sarawakians residing outside of the state.
“Other than the usual high cost of travel and time taken, any travel will pose safety and health risks to these voters coming back to Sarawak to vote. Another deterrence or barrier would be the likelihood of quarantine requirements a er they exit their home state,” she said.
She said EC had, in July 2019, announced its reform action plan under which, six policy committees had been formed to work on various aspects of improving the process of elections.
“We note that the Committee on Absentee Voters took cognisance of calls to enfranchise East Malaysian voters living or working away from their home state in Peninsular Malaysia, by enabling them to vote ‘out of by reforming the absentee voting and postal vote process.
“While we understand the commission's commitment to ensure the methods for voting are safe, secure and with integrity, there is an urgent need to fast-track these reforms,” she said, calling upon the EC to provide a definite roadmap and time-line for the implementation of these ‘out-of-region' voting reform.