Sarawak polls likely by October, say analysts

By John Isaac

IF everything goes according to plan in terms of the country’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sarawak election could be held in September or October, said analysts.

Universiti Malaya’s Associate Professor Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said since the emergency was expected to end on Aug 1 and the Sarawak assembly was due to be dissolved on June 7, a September election looked promising.

“The state government can carry out its duties as usual during an emergency, but if it has a chance to hold the election, it should.

“The state government needs to table and pass its budget for next year. This budget will be important for the people and the government’s fight against Covid-19.

“But if the Covid-19 situation doesn’t get better by August, I believe the election could be held in October or even later this year,” he told the New Straits Times.

Following a spike in the number of Covid-19 daily cases, the country was placed under an emergency from Jan 11 to Aug 1.

This begged the question of whether Sarawak will have to hold its election before reaching the state assembly’s deadline on Aug 7.

However, constitutional expert Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said Sarawak would have 60 days to prepare for an election after the emergency ended and that the Aug 7 deadline would not be applicable in this situation

Senior Fellow of the National Professors Council Professor Dr Jeniri Amir said while a September election was possible, two goals needed to be achieved first before voters could go to the polls.

“The first is to reduce the new daily Covid-19 cases to a reasonable figure, maybe fewer than 200 or 100 cases.

“And the second is ensuring the success of the National Immunisation Programme.

“If we can get between 70 and 80 per cent of the total population vaccinated, I believe the election can be held this year.”

Jeniri said these meant that a lot of pressure would be put on the Health Ministry and the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry.

There are concerns about safety and how everyone wants to avoid a repeat of the Covid-19 surge following the Sabah election last year, but it raises a question of whether Malaysia can get 70 to 80 per cent of its population fully vaccinated by August.

Sarawak DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg – FMT Pix

Jeniri said the pressure would be felt by the two ministries to make sure the goals of vaccination were met.

“However, I think it is unfair to put all the responsibility on them because all ministries, civil servants and Malaysians are responsible in this fight too.”

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) secretary-general Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi, when contacted, said that the state ruling coalition was ready to go into the battlefield.

“We are not in a hurry, but we don’t want to overstay either. We are not overly excited about an election, considering the number of daily Covid-19 cases.

“However, it will be nice to be able to table and pass the budget for next year.

“The chief minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) will call a state election only when the cases drop to a reasonable number.”

On May 16, Nanta said that Abang Johari would have an audience with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah about the dissolution of the assembly but no date had been fixed.