Sarawak election amidst the Covid-19 pandemic doable, says Professor

Pic from FMT

By John Isaac

HOLDING a state election amidst the Covid-19 pandemic is doable, provided the voting mechanism is conducive and safe for voters, said Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud.

He noted that there are several options already available which can reduce fear among voters on the spread of the coronavirus while fulfilling their responsibility as voters.

“Some options might require a legal answer or extra time to prepare. Since there is some time before automatic dissolution of the Sarawak State Assembly, the Election Commission needs to work on this straight away.

“The election in South Korea in April this year provides some noteworthy lessons for us to conduct elections in a safe environment.

“New Zealand has applied the lessons learned from South Korea and extended voting to people in quarantine, hospitals and even prison.

“They even provide a collection procedure for people who are unable to send their votes via post.

“But one of the most noteworthy lessons from New Zealand is that they actually postponed their elections because the number of cases was rising,” he said when contacted by New Sarawak Tribune recently.

Pointing out proactive measures to be taken should the state election be held anytime soon, Awang Bulgiba said Sarawakians who are residing in the Peninsular and Sabah should be allowed to vote by post.

“One option is to widen the availability of postal votes to all voters, like what has been planned for the US elections in November this year and was also done in South Korea in April.

“Second option is to enable early voting to as many voters as possible so that voting can be staggered over weeks rather than in a single day.

“The turnout for postal and early voting in the South Korean elections was 26 percent of all votes cast; meaning a quarter of all who voted chose this option.

“And the third option is to mobilise remote polling stations in the Peninsular and Sabah for Sarawakians, or even in overseas, in lieu of postal voting,” he elaborated.

Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud

The epidemiologist also stressed such measures were necessary as this will help to reduce population movements, such as people those who are living outside Sarawak do not need to travel back to the state to vote.

“But these options may require some legal consultation or amendment of the Act 19 (Election Act 1958).

“Even if these can be done administratively, there are many logistical issues as preparations have to be made before such options can be carried out and at the moment, there isn’t a lot of time left.

“Another option, probably through administrative in nature, is for polling to be staggered over a few days or to allow the polling centres to close later, for example at 10 pm, so that proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) can be followed and strictly supervised,” he reckoned.

Asked whether online voting would be the best option, he further opined that this can only be done if digital infrastructure has been installed at all remote places across the state.

“I do not think online voting is possible at the moment as this involves an amendment to Act 19 which requires time.

“Online voting is not easy to carry out in a hurry as fool-proof systems need to be put in place.

“If state elections were to take place as close as possible to the mandatory election date, time is needed to install the digital infrastructure required,” he added.